A NUMBER of hurdles in the 26,000-home Local Plan for Swindon were overcome by the council yesterday – but the planning inspectorate says areas of major concern remain.

Government-appointed Planning Inspector Mike Fox called an exploratory meeting at the Steam Museum yesterday to allow the authority time to discuss issues still surrounding the blueprint for new homes building up to 2026.

Population projections, provision for gypsies and travellers, infrastructure to provide water and the viability of the scheme were some of the main concerns cited in a letter to the council.

“One of my key concerns is whether or not it’s going to happen,” said Mr Fox during a discussion of infrastructure measures. “It’s a concern about effectiveness rather than over justification – that’s my key area of concern.”

He said most of the information provided suggested the infrastructure was going to take a very long time to complete – with work at junction 16 expected to be finished by 2024.

“Are there plans in place in the meantime or are you going to make residents suffer 15 years of misery?” asked Mr Fox.

“Where is the money going to come from – it’s a big amount. The Eastern Villages is going to cost £50m, which is a significant figure for one town, and there is a 100 per cent short fall at the moment. Where is the money coming from?”

Paddy Bradley, head of commissioning response at the council, said the authority was working with Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which was applying to a national grant system.

About £20bn is being made available to the 39 LEPs across the country in the next five years. Each will have to bid for the money, but the council is hoping a chunk will pay for the new infrastructure.

Money from section 106 orders, which companies pay to local authorities under agreements for land development, will also be used.

The council did resolve fears about population projections. Mr Fox had expressed concern that the 2011 household projections extended only to 2021.

Phillip Smith, the council’s planning policy manager, said the 239,528 population figure took into account married couples, couples living together but not married, and families – so a smaller number of houses was needed.

The council said it was including a provision for gypsies and travellers within its Local Development Scheme and this information would be provided to Mr Fox.

Coun Dale Heenan, cabinet member for strategic planning and sustainability, said: “There were no surprises in the public meeting with the Planning Inspector, and Swindon Council recorded a couple of very important early wins in our arguments for the growth of Swindon. The tricky part of this process is that the Inspector has to be persuaded and he is sitting as judge and jury.

“This is a time for the professionals to step up and for politicians to rise above political party interest.”

A decision on whether the Local Plan will carry on to the next stage or be suspended to allow the council time for more research will be announced by Mr Fox in a few days. If it does proceed an examination in public is likely at the beginning of March.