Swindon’s £500M housing development project stalls

By Anita Jaynes on 14 July, 2016

Ainscough Strategic Land is to appeal against Swindon Borough Council’s recent decision to refuse outline planning permission for residential development at the allocated Lotmead Villages in Wanborough.

Ainscough Strategic Land submitted two planning applications in May 2015 to develop two new villages within the strategic allocation of the New Eastern Villages, to be known as Lotmead and Lower Lotmead. Prior to submitting these applications, Ainscough had seven pre-application meetings with various officers at Swindon Borough Council, and at the last of those in February 2015 had agreed common ground on a range of issues, which paved the way for the planning application submissions.

The target determination date for each application was originally set as August 28 2015. However, during 2015 and early 2016 the council requested several extensions to the planning decision date, all of which Ainscough agreed to support. Since there was no clear evidence of progression on the application, and when officers requested yet a further extension to the latest determination date, June  30 2016, just days before it was set to pass, Ainscough declined. Both applications were then refused by planning officers, using delegated powers. Despite the size of the proposed development, neither application has gone before the Council’s Planning Committee.

The determination date is an arbitrary government target, which is neither in the interests of good town planning nor more importantly the residents and communities of Swindon. Following expiration of the determination date for each application the Council did have the ability to continue to work with Ainscough, outside of the determination date parameters, to enable the applications to be progressed in a cooperative manner and brought before their Planning Committee for consideration.

Lotmead and Lower Lotmead villages plan to deliver up to 2,600 homes, up to 1,765 sq m of community/retail use, up to 3,000 sq m of business/employment use, a primary school and open space, over 200 acres of strategic landscaping and other green infrastructure, including nature conservation. Provision was also made to protect a route for the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal through the development, as part of the ongoing reinstatement works.

Phase 1 includes 200 homes, with access off Wanborough Road, and provides a catalyst for delivery of the New Eastern Villages project, which is already very substantially behind schedule.

Swindon Borough Council’s own Local Plan, which was adopted in March 2015, recognises that there is a pressing need for new houses in Swindon. The land at New Eastern Villages is a key allocated site in the Local Plan and the Lotmead site is a central part of its strategy to bring forward the much-needed homes and jobs, as well as open leisure space, that is part of the vision for the town.

The Local Plan requires 22,000 new homes to be built between 2011 and 2026. This equates to 1,150 new homes being built every year between 2011 and 2016, and for 1,625 dwellings to be built each year between now and 2026. The council’s Local Plan is required to demonstrate that this level of house building is deliverable for the coming five years – which is known as the “five-year housing land supply.”

The council has acknowledged that it cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply. The most recently published housing trajectory includes delivery of 4,050 homes at the New Eastern Villages by the end of 2020/21. From 2014 – 2017 1,000 new homes have been programmed for delivery, but to date, no housing has been delivered there with no planning consents in place to deliver the Council’s target.

Ainscough Strategic Land believes that both applications will not only remedy this situation, but will deliver two new villages that will support a first class quality of life for the people who choose to live there.

Paul Martin, managing director of Ainscough Strategic Land, said: “We were very disappointed by the decision to refuse planning permission on both applications, and that after so much work and consultation on both sides the elected members on the planning committee weren’t even able to consider them.

“It was unnecessary to rush to a refusal, seemingly only to satisfy the meaningless government targets. The value of our scheme is over £500m and we don’t believe that the decision was in the best interests of the people of Swindon, of those people who are desperately hoping to buy their own homes, access social housing, or of democracy itself.

“We have taken expert advice and believe that we have a compelling case to make at appeal, and will be demonstrating how our applications are a key part of Swindon’s future economic prosperity. Based on recent actions of the Council, having the applications considered by an independent planning Inspector is now the only way to ensure that they are considered fully, and in the most expedient manner which will be to the benefit of all.

“We will of course continue to try to work as positively as possible with the Council as one of the delivery partners at New Eastern Villages. This is an incredibly important housing project – it’s the UK’s largest greenfield urban extension, and we are as determined as anyone to make sure it is delivered to the highest quality.

“However, we must all remember that achieving that is the joint responsibility of all the delivery partners and the Council. For New Eastern Villages to be the success that Swindon deserves, there is going to need to be strong strategic contribution by both parties. With this in mind we will be seeking a meeting with senior officers and Councillors to constructively find a way forward.”

Pictured above: Paul Martin, managing director of Ainscough Strategic Land