AN environmental campaigner says that plans to increase the buffer around Swindon's Coate Water are a big con.

Jean Saunders, of Swindon's Friends Of The Earth and the Save Coate campaign, said the plans revealed by the Swindon Gateway Partnership were misleading and did little to protect the historic country park.

But the consultants behind the plans say they are not hoodwinking people and that the changes that Ms Saunders has focused on are not definitive.

The Swindon Gateway Partnership wants to create a university campus, expand Great Western Hospital and build hundreds of new homes on land at nearby Coate.

As previously reported, developers were told to make adjustments, which have included increasing size of the buffer zone separating the nature reserve from the development to 40 per cent.

It could mean that the country park increases in size by about almost 60 acres.

But Ms Saunders said: "From the details given by the partnership the changes sound very exciting, but I have seen the seen a copy of the revised indicative master plan showing the planned layouts.

"The only increase in buffer land to that proposed by the developers in September 2004 is an additional area south of Coate Water.

"This land was earmarked for the University of Bath's playing fields and wasn't going to be built on anyway.

"The area of most concern to the 30,000 people who signed the Save Coate petition is east and south-east of Coate Water.

"The developers have not increased the buffer here at all. There is no 40 per cent increase here.

"The announcement suggested that the developments would be further back from Coate, but this isn't the case at all."

But Les Durrant, the of planning consultants DPDS, based in Old Town, said that people were not being mislead about the plans.

"On a project of this scale and complexity there is no way we can con or hoodwink people," he said.

"These maps that Ms Saunders is using are not the definitive master plan, that will not be produced until next year.

"This diagram is merely a way of explaining to people about the plans and to respond to the requirements of the planning inspectors."

But Advertiser readers also seem unconvinced by the partnership's claims.

In a poll, just 20 per cent of readers said they believed that the new plans would help to protect Coate Water.

Mr Durrant said that the proposed changes to the master plan would be publicised in a newsletter being circulated across a large part of Swindon and to key community stakeholders.

There will be a public exhibition of the final plans in the New Year prior to the submission of amended plans.