The Planning Report on the development proposal at Inlands Farm, Lower Wanborough has just been published a week ahead of the planning meeting to decide the application on 25th August 2020. In its 77-page report the Swindon Borough Council Planning Officers have concluded that virtually every aspect of the application should be rejected, citing a plethora of significant technical planning deficiencies and noting these far outweigh any economic benefits claimed.
The South Swindon Protection Group, representing the views of over 1500 Swindon residents, continues to call for the revised application for a proposed land development in Lower Wanborough to be rejected by SBC’s Planning Committee.
John Warr, the Group’s Chair, commented:
“Following an unprecedented level of objection to a development application in the Swindon area, the SSPG is delighted that its objections have been vindicated. We note the number of objections acknowledged in the report from a full range of national and local consultees to expose the many shortcomings in this ill-conceived application. We fully support local planning policy which is made by local people and clearly this proposal is contrary to that, something which Planning Officers seem to have concluded in their detailed review of the application.
The potential harm caused by this speculative application clearly is greater than any potential employment opportunities it claimed to offer but failed to demonstrate as being realistically deliverable.
The SSPG fully supports local entrepreneurs who bring genuine business to the Swindon area. But this application has drawn unequivocal objections from local and national consultees, agencies and vested interests. It is the wrong plan for the wrong place and the wrong time.”
The applicant’s emphasis that they themselves are not this site’s intended occupant, together with the class of permission sought not satisfying the packing, warehousing, distribution requirements that Wasdells’ business would require, only serve to further fuel speculation this is merely a planning Trojan horse, concealing its true nature behind the smoke and mirrors of a claimed ‘Science Park’ when this site could never fulfil the many requirements in order to become one.
In any event in purely practical terms there is now no possibility of developing such a site by their self-imposed deadline. The applicants will have watched events unfold at Badbury Park, where there was scant interest in the industrial land, and which very quickly became a residential development site, with all the enhanced land value that accompanied this change; this is doubtless a similar speculative investment ploy. Furthermore, the likelihood of any such development bringing “hundreds of new jobs” (the precise number changes with their every press release) to Swindon is misguided at best, and misleading at worst.
John Warr added: “It is regrettable that this highly speculative application with its false promise of job creation has been made at a time when Swindon Council is making such great efforts to attract and create new employment opportunities in the area. Trying to galvanise public opinion with threats of further job losses at this difficult time is at best highly manipulative, and at worse simply a mechanism for encouraging yet another change of protected land use – for which they are not guaranteeing their own occupancy of the site.
We have every confidence in our elected Councillors and that they will uphold their Local Plan policies and support their officers and local people’s views on this misleading application by supporting the recommendation to refuse. Failure to do so would declare open season on every green field site across Swindon falling to such speculative development activity.”
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Q - Wasdell are threatening to pull their business along with 650 (check) jobs out of Swindon if this application is not approved. How can the SSPG continue to justify their objection of the proposed new development at such worrying times for our local economy?
A - Let us be clear, we are in no way against Wasdell as a company, on the contrary we welcome the entrepreneurship of people like Martin Tedham who runs Wasdell.
Our objections are wholly focussed on a proposal that seeks to completely override all the planning guidelines and development strategies that SBC have in place. It would defile a greenfield area, to the detriment of Swindon's environment, totally unnecessarily when there is an abundance of industrial areas designated around Swindon that remain underutilised and in further development.
Q - Wasdell claim that none of the other areas around Swindon are suitable for their needs, and that this is despite trying to work with SBC to find suitable alternatives. What if this really is the only suitable location?
A - We are not privy to those consultations, but given the scale of available industrial and warehousing sites both available now, currently in development (e.g. Symmetry Park, which is big enough for the likes of Amazon), and locations about to become available (e.g. Honda), we find that truly astonishing.
What we do know is that greenfield land is considerably cheaper that brownfield etc - and this is a major motivation for developers and businesses alike.
Q - Bringing a Science park to Swindon may be considered by some an innovative proposal. Why are you claiming that this development is mere speculation rather than endorsing it?
A - To promote the application as a “Science Park” to be delivered “subject to demand” is misleading and a complete misnomer. We have had expert founders of Science park advise on the application and they have dismissed the proposal as presented as unworkable. There are no references to signed up partners, commitments, skill profiles or funding pledges and this application is therefore speculative with no basis in fact.
Importantly, the developing agent’s submission specifically highlights that Wasdell are themselves not committed to this site as the "planning permission is not sought for Wasdell or any other potential occupier”. Only that “all occupiers would be required to fall within the approved Use Classes”. That is, the application is supposedly for “light industrial use”, whereas the largest part of the site proposal/design and drawings are for a huge "warehouse and distribution" centre.
The name essentially dresses up what is neither a Science park, nor just the class of light industrial, but a large warehousing and distribution centre – and the case should be judged on that fact.
It is also worth reminding ourselves that nearby Badbury Park was marketed in a similar fashion for over 5 years - unsuccessfully due to lack of interest. It is now a site for hundreds of homes. The North Eastern Villages development more than caters for prospective housing interest east of the A419. Additional exposure of this location at Inlands farm, which is an SBC protected greenfield area abutting South Swindon’s Area of Outstanding National Beauty, to any development, or even a similar outcome to Badbury Park, is quite simply not an opportunity - it is a travesty.
Q - Martin Tedham of Wasdell has written to the Council accusing SSPG of producing misleading graphics and scaremongering with false claims. What is your response to that?
A - The objections report sent to Swindon Planning Group from the SSPG is based on careful consideration of the implications of the proposal, with the benefit of technical opinion from eminent planning expert witnesses. We have uncovered over 20 serious technical flaws in the proposals submitted by the applicant, all of which we have evidenced and substantiated.
These are only facts based on consideration of the 100+ documents forming the proposal.
Q - The Government are considering changes to the planning process to make it faster and easier for applications and decisions to be taken. Are you just behind the times?
A - A key part of the proposals are to have councils’ local plans divide their unbuilt land into three types – growth areas, suitable for significant building; renewal areas, on the edge of towns and villages or on disused brownfield sites; and protected areas, areas of countryside – in order to make that clearer.
The area in dispute is already classified as a protected area in Swindon’s strategic plans, which have been developed with community (business and locals) involvement. So in this respect Swindon is abreast of new emerging process improvements.
You will always get speculative developers prepared to chance their arm wanting to build on fields rather than in the middle of towns or on brownfield sites - because it’s so much cheaper to do that. Changes to Government guidelines will unfortunately not change that.
We are delighted that the recommendations of Swindon’s planners to the Council is to reject this revisited application - and they have done this in full consideration of the economics of the case for Swindon.
When a development proposal as flawed and damaging as this one, is put forward, it is as well there are cool heads to advise against it in the strongest possible terms.
The SSPG represents the views of over 1500 Swindonians - and if developers and applicants think a proposal, as serious as the implications for this, will go uncommented upon - they are woefully misguided.
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