HOUSING, education and town centre regeneration are the three biggest challenges facing the town, the leader of the Swindon Labour Group has said.

Councillor Jim Grant has laid out what he considers the most significant hurdles that must be overcome if Swindon is to prosper.

Among a number of pledges, Labour has made a firm commitment to tackling problems with the housing market if the party gains control of the council in May.

Its manifesto pledges to double the number of council houses currently being built and “build more private housing for rent, offering quality private rented accommodation to Swindon residents and setting the standard for other private landlords”.

Coun Grant labelled as “skewed priorities” the 8,000-home New Eastern Villages development and the 1,500-house project at Tadpole Farm because, he said, neither helps people trapped on low incomes who are hit with high rents.

“We need more social council housing so poor people are able to live a decent life,” he said. “People need to be able to live on what they earn and we must promote the real living wage.”

Another key issue for Coun Grant is education, something he claims “we need to get a grip on”. It is intimately linked to one of his party’s major policies this year – reintroducing children’s Sure Start centres.

Outlining Labour’s approach to education policy, he said that Sure Start centres are essential to plug the gap in early learning, while ensuring that suitable provisions are in place for secondary education.

“Sure Start centres are vitally important, but where our problems lie is in our GCSE results. We need to up our game at secondary level. We need to be attracting good teachers and more university education by bringing campuses here. These are very important if we are to improve this town.”

The third matter of concern for Coun Grant is town centre regeneration. He was fiercely critical of the Conservative administration’s handling of a number of regeneration projects and he called for a renewed “drive and determination” to ensure success.

“Unless we see better results in terms of town centre regeneration, our economy is going to stall. We have had too many false dawns.”

He cited North Star, Kimmerfields and the Locarno as “good plans” but ones on which the Tories have “failed to deliver and have taken their time in not delivering them”.

Speaking about Labour’s chances of taking control after May 3, the leader said: “People seem to be receptive to our messages of more council houses and the reintroduction of Sure Start centres. An increase in crime levels both locally and nationally is also an issue for people as they are concerned about cuts to the police and to youth services, which then has a knock on effect in the levels of youth crime.”

As things stand, the Conservatives have 30 out of the 57 council seats, Labour 25 and the Liberal Democrats two. Labour needs to gain four seats to take overall control and as well as canvassing in every corner of the borough, party members are campaigning hard in a handful of target wards - namely, Eastcott, Lydiard and Freshbrook, Stratton, Haydon Wick and Covingham.

“Campaign is going very well and we are hopeful that we will take control of the council, although it is a big ask.”

He added: “We have some brilliant candidates.”

n Tomorrow we speak to Liberal Democrat leader Stan Pajak.