THE Government has announced millions of pounds worth of investment in Swindon and Wiltshire which will be used on local infrastructure and economic growth projects.
A potential £130 million has been allocated which will be used on a variety of projects, such as the building of a tunnel under the M4 to link up the new Wichelstowe housing project and the development of infrastructure linked to the Eastern Villages.
Earlier this year the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, a group of local authorities and private business, bid for a portion of £6 billion government funding for such projects.
They bid for just under £300 million but all 39 LEPs in the country also bid so negotiations had to take place.
Some of the money will be spent in Wiltshire but Swindon residents will see around £90 million of the cash, although in the early stages much of it is to carry out feasibility studies.
For the first year there will only be an initial £12 million spent and the rest is allocated for next year.
Council Leader David Renard (Con, Haydon Wick) said: “This is certainly very positive for Swindon.
“We know that the national pot was about three times oversubscribed so we always knew we were not going to get everything.
“Overall I think we have got a good deal. It allows us to move forward with some key projects in Swindon.
“It gives us a source of funding which we would not be able to provide locally.
“We must remember though that there will also be money provided from European grants, local authorities and private developers so this is not all the money we have available.”
Money has also been earmarked for upgrading junctions 15 and 16 of the M4 as well as the development of sustainable transport schemes.
As well as the large scale infrastructure projects, money has also been set aside to provide training for ex-military personnel to return to work, as part of the city deal.
“There are a lot of service men and women who look to move to Swindon when they leave the forces,” said Coun Renard.
“Many of them go into a job for which they are overqualified. They soon lose interest and leave. This money will allow us to help them, as well as local businesses, to ensure people go to jobs they are suited for.
“It will benefit both workers and the economy.”
A lot of the money has been allocated for later years as projects progress, such as the Wichelstowe tunnel, but Coun Renard is confident it will arrive.
He said: “Until you have money in your pocket you can never be certain but we are confident it will all go ahead.
“Things may change with a new government but every party has committed to LEPs.
“In the meantime we are looking to focus on getting started with the money we have been given.”
Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson welcomed the news which he said would benefit all in the town.
He said: “This is fantastic news and shows the commitment of this government to deliver economic growth outside of London.
“This significant funding is a real boost for our long term economic prospects in Swindon.”
M4 link-up to development meets with mixed reaction
THE Wichelstowe development, which will see 4,500 homes built, is the largest housing project from public owned land in the country.
As a result, the government were keen to highlight the money they have earmarked for a tunnel under the M4 which will link the project with the rest of Swindon.
Located in the South West corner of the development, it will go under the motorway and link with Hay Lane. However, it has come in for criticism from councillors who see it as an expensive option when others are available.
Coun Wayne Crabbe (Con, Wroughton and Wichelstow), pictured, said: “It is good the government is spending in Swindon and I am delighted the money is coming to my ward.
“I just think it could be better spent on another crossing because the tunnel is a daft option.
“A fraction of the money could be spent using a bridge under the railway bringing it back into use for buses so the road at Rushy Platt does not need to be closed to cars at peak hours.
“We could then use the rest to build a bridge over the railway which would link with Great Western Way.
“This is a more practical option and would bring benefits to local businesses, especially in the Mannington Retail Park.”
Thamesdown Drive extension has stalled
THE extension of Thamesdown Drive is something regularly brought up by residents as something they would like to see carried out but it was not included in the SWLEP bid.
A reason given is that it is not eligible for the money but this has drawn criticism from Labour.
Swindon North Parliamentary Candidate Mark Dempsey said: “My view is the announcement does not match Labour’s ambition for rebuilding. We are really playing catch-up from the last four years of underspending.
“The lack of support for the Thamesdown Drive extension shows that North Swindon is getting a bad deal from this government and they are failing to deliver the real change needed.”
However, Council Leader David Renard says the extension is still part of the council’s agenda.
He said: “The focus for this money was on projects which could deliver new growth to Swindon and Wiltshire, not on ones that already exist.
“Unfortunately Thamesdown Drive falls into this category but we will continue to press the government.”