RECENTLY, an audience of local business people asked me what makes the present council administration distinctive? This ended with general agreement that the Central Area Action Plan, which the council adopted in 2009, and the Town Centre Masterplan that flows from it, provide a coherent vision for Swindon for which there is support across the political spectrum.
I find this consensus reassuring. It sends a clear message to existing businesses and developers about the future. Anyone who wants to make a long-term commitment to Swindon can draw comfort from the fact that there will be no radical changes; this town is open for business.
Nevertheless, any development involves a degree of negotiation and compromise. Here is one area where I believe the current administration does well. We know how and when to say yes. That means we have a positive attitude towards investment and the new jobs and wealth development it will bring. It was this positive attitude that helped Swindon secure the Bodleian Library’s archive storage facility at South Marston, when Oxford City Council failed to say that simple word: yes. It has helped Swindon become a leading place in advocating solar sound barriers, with Coun Dale Heenan taking the lead. It also means we don’t waste time fighting battles we can’t win. Swindon’s geography, its good and improving road and rail links, and its existing industries, makes this an attractive town for economic growth and new housing. We have a clear policy of saying yes to managed growth, and using the negotiations to get the best deal for residents.
Others may recommend a different approach. Some would like to see more consultation on every decision. However, the downside of this is that the only answer the town would give investors is “please wait.” How many of us have been stuck on hold with a company’s telephone answering service, only to take our business elsewhere out of frustration? If the council and its members are never ready to say yes, new jobs may go elsewhere.
A second risk is that the council gets a reputation for saying no. As we saw with the Northern Sector, just being negative meant that the council lost control of the development, and we ended up with something that does not suit residents’ needs as well it could have done.
For example, there are issues with school provision, parking and maintenance of commons areas.
My administration’s policy remains clear: I say yes to investment, yes let’s negotiate, and yes let’s get the best for Swindon.