FEARS have been raised over the future of green open spaces in Swindon after the council’s core planning document was allowed to expire.
In 2006, Swindon Council adopted the Local Plan, which was supposed to set out the council’s policies and proposals for land use in the borough until the end of 2011.
The document says, among other things, that development which would result in the loss of public open space should not be permitted, except in certain situations, such as when it can be demonstrated that there is an excess of recreational open space.
Even though it has notionally expired, the local plan will stay current law and legally enforceable until it is eventually replaced with the draft Core Strategy.
However, the fact it has become old makes it increasingly easy for developers to challenge it because it is based on information which may have changed.
Swindon Council’s Labour group has already collected more than 500 signatures for a petition asking the council to reaffirm its commitment to protecting green open spaces as designated in the Local Plan.
Group leader Jim Grant will also make a proposal at the full council meeting tonight for the council to oppose in principle any development on land designated as green open space as defined in the plan.
Coun Grant said: “This petition is looking to re-establish the council’s ambition to protect green open spaces in Swindon’s urban areas like Covingham, Freshbrook and Dorcan; by re-adopting its 2006 Local Plan until the Core Strategy has been fully agreed by council.
“The 2006 Local Plan ensures that designated green open spaces that matter to residents are protected and that is why we are calling on council to reaffirm this document.”
Residents have also raised concerns about the situation. Andrew Hill, 40, of Middleleaze, said: “I’m worried if the document that protects green spaces in Swindon has got out of date.
“The council has sometimes built on green space and I think any protection we can get for what’s left is important.”
Matt Johnson, 29, of Parks, said: “I would hope the councillors would stand up to save green spaces, but it’s a concern. Obviously it seems strange they have let it expire without adopting the new one.
“Swindon has a lot of grassy areas but some of them seem to be going now.”
Jenny Webb, 45, of Old Town, said: “We don’t have enough green space in Swindon.
“I would like to see more protection for green areas, not less.”
However, council leader Rod Bluh denies the expiry of the Local Plan will leave green spaces open to swathes of development.
He said: “It is completely untrue to suggest that we have left green spaces unprotected, because the Local Plan is effectively still in force.
“It is quite normal for local plans to be replaced immediately, and the old one remains valid until the replacement is adopted.
“What Labour claims needs to be done is, therefore, already happening. It’s just another cynical pre-election stunt which misleads the public and does them no credit.”