As work goes on to tackle the fire at the Averies waste site, I would like to explain the huge amount of work that has been going on, much of it requiring meetings with our partner agencies about operational matters. The Fire Brigade has responsibility for putting the fire out. The Environment Agency has responsibility for licensing such sites. The Council has no formal role, but as the smoke was affecting residents and businesses, we used our powers to help co-ordinate activities.
As a local authority, we had two goals: we wanted the fire put out and the polluter, not the Council Tax payer, to pick up the bill. Through our patient negotiations, we are now seeing progress with the Environment Agency using its regulatory powers when the company itself did not take action.
Clearly, officers could not conduct these delicate negotiations in the public domain, nor could we set out all our contingencies in case the Council was left, by default, with the full liability and the bill. I would also like to thank our Members of Parliament, Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson, who have liaised with the necessary London-based agencies and departments on the Borough’s behalf. I am grateful for views received from residents, businesses, and ward councillors. Their priority was to put the fire out as soon as possible.
In addition to this short-term problem, which has consumed many hours of officers’ time and mine, there are long-term projects that require attention. For example, one of the most significant areas for which I am responsible is the Wichelstowe development.
This is a huge scheme that will, once completed, bring much needed new housing to Swindon, as well as a further boost to our economy from the construction work itself. At the time we started work, we were in a property boom, and central government was pressing us to build even more. We were also keen not to repeat the Northern Sector, where schools, roads, and shops followed after the homes were built, and at some cost to local Council Tax Payers.
Unfortunately, the first run on a British bank in over 100 years (Northern Rock), and the national and international financial crisis, rendered the Council’s original plans obsolete.
Our challenge now is to find a private sector development partner through a joint venture. This is a £40m project where we have a cross-party group of councillors advising me. I am confident that we will see progress that will see Middle and West Wichel become valued additions to the Borough.