REGENERATING our town and growing the economy are the Conservatives’ top priorities for Swindon, says the leader of the council.

Coun David Renard has placed the twin policies of reviving of the town centre and sustaining “sound economic management” right at the top of his party’s agenda ahead of the local elections on May 3.

In an interview with the Advertiser, Coun Renard, between busy spells of door knocking, claimed the future success of the town centre rests on its ability to provide more residential space, entertainment venues and cultural spots.

“The most important thing in terms of town centre regeneration is this: we have to get more people living there,” he said.

“The more people we can get living in the town centre the more we can get people to spend money in the town centre.

“We need to get away from this retail-led idea of town centres. Most people realise now that the online offer has taken business away from town centres, so there’s much more demand for eating out and cultural and entertainment offers.”

It is primarily for this reason that the decision was made to build the new museum and art gallery by the Wyvern Theatre, with the intention of establishing a new cultural quarter.

However, a constant refrain from voters whenever a new scheme is announced or a new idea circulated usually runs along the lines of: ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’

This feeling among members of the public is something Coun Renard understands, himself admitting that things have not “moved as quickly as I would have liked”. But he remains positive that the administration’s development projects will be success stories. And the jewel in the crown: North Star.

“We are delighted to have landed North Star and the £270m worth of investment that is coming into our town. Seven Capital are moving ahead quickly and are very keen to get on wit it. I am confidant we will see that happen in the next few years.”

He maintained that the Kimmerfields project would soon start to take shape and cited the recent erection of hoardings around the site as evidence that progress was being made behind the scenes, despite no developer actually being in place to lead the scheme.

Last year, an independent review by V4 Services into town centre regeneration did not speak in overly favourable terms about Kimmerfields. The review read: “Overall, our sense is that this site should be deliverable but it is unlikely that the council will find a single partner to deliver this.”

But Coun Renard spoke of “successes” such as the one to three Faringdon Road development, the University of Wales Trinity St David taking up residence in the Carriage Works and the rejuvenation of Wellington St as evidence that regeneration is safe in the Tories’ hands.

Speaking about what he sees as significant challenges facing the council in the coming years, he said: “The biggest challenge for us is sustainability. We have seen what has happened in Northamptonshire where they haven’t kept a grip on their finances and are in some considerable difficulty and stress at the moment. In Swindon, we have balanced the books every year for the last 14 years, so I think we have a very impressive track record of managing the resources. That is within the context of diminishing resources coming from central government.”

He also said that social care for adults and children is a massive hurdle for the authority to overcome. Around 80 per cent of the council’s budget will this year be spent on caring for the town’s most vulnerable adults and children, and Coun Renard and his team have repeatedly stressed their commitment to helping those in need. Indeed, it was the chief justification for the five per cent council tax rise announced earlier this year.

“More children have been coming onto care in Swindon and we are seeing overspends in budgets in children’s services. But we take our obligations to look after the vulnerable very seriously.”