SOMETHING was about to change and something else about to stay the same this week in 2004.

“It’s Yes,’ blared our headline over a front page story about what in those days was known as the Front Garden Development.

The Front Garden was the name given to the swathe of green land roughly bounded by the M4, Old Town and Okus.

A planning application to build thousands of houses there had been greeted with widespread horror and a vociferous local protest campaign.

For the final planning hearing, at which Bryant Homes was given permission to go ahead, the borough council hired the Wyvern Theatre.

Afterwards an angry Terry King, chairman of the Front Garden Action Group, said: “What a farce. It was all stitched up and done before we got there and nothing anybody said from the floor was going to change their minds.

“It really makes you wonder about democracy.”

The protest group vowed to take the fight to the office of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott during the appeal process, but the die was cast and the site is now Wichelstowe.

If it was all change Front Garden, it was anything but at the Mechanics’ Institute, which by 2004 hadn’t been used by the public in 18 years.

The then owner, businessman Mathew Singh, was in the midst of an attempt to rejuvenate the Listed building in Emlyn Square by turning it into a hotel, private apartments, a restaurant and a health and beauty club.

His plan involved replacing part of the building with an enormous glass structure which critics said would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb in a neighbourhood vying to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aesthetic issues aside, Mr Singh’s ideas also brought him into conflict with English Heritage. The conservation organisation’s South West director, Chris Smith, said: “I envy his enthusiasm. He carries out his work with a genuine commitment, but I wouldn’t choose right now to be in his shoes.

“It’s a bold step – Mr Singh showed us a scheme and we indicated that it gave us grave concerns, and that is still our position.”

The plans came to nothing, but there are still hopes that the building will eventually be refurbished and brought back into public service.

In celebrity news, former Swindon Town player Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock, 35, was announced as a competitor in the third run of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

He was among a line-up which included John Lydon, royal correspondent Jennie Bond, soon-to-be-an-item Peter Andre and Jordan, and eventual winner Kerry Katona.

Neil was the third celebrity voted out of the jungle by viewers, following the elimination of presenter Mike Read and athlete Diane Modahl.

Another of our stories in those final days of January 14 years ago was about a possible Swindon visitor boom on the back of the literary sensation of the moment.

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, about a young man challenged by a peculiar mystery and an unspecified autism spectrum condition, is set in the town. It had just won the Whitbread Book of the Year accolade.

Swindon Festival of Literature director Matt Holland said: ”Swindon Council couldn’t get this kind of positive publicity and image makeover for the town even if it threw millions and millions of taxpayers’ money at it.”

Mr Haddon said: “When I sat down to write a novel about a disabled teenager living with his father in Swindon, I didn’t expect this to happen.

“I keep expecting to wake up in a hospital bed with a doctor standing over me saying, ‘I’m afraid, Mr Haddon, you’ve had a severe blow to the head.’”

Another location in a bestselling book was Aldbourne, which during World War Two had been home to American paratroopers preparing for the invasion of occupied Europe.

Among them were the men of the 506 Parachute Regiment, whose Easy Company was immortalised in Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, later adapted as a blockbuster TV series starring Damian Lewis.

By 2004, only a few of the old stable blocks in which they had been billeted still stood. They were owned by Mike Steadman, who announced that they were to be carefully dismantled, shipped to the regiment’s home town in Georgia and put on display in a museum.

The logistics were handled by local father and son team Keith and Stephen Sowerby, who were enlisted to prepare, label and crate the historic structures.

The project was spearheaded by Chris Anderson, editor of US magazine World War Two, who said: “For many, these stables were the last place that many of these guys could really call home.

“The idea is to bring these stables to the US as a kind of thank you to the veterans who made such big sacrifices.”