A CONTROVERSIAL proposed housing development has apparently been backed by almost a dozen members of staff at the estate agency linked to the plans.

A former Swindon mayor says it is “bang out of order” that the authors of 11 comments to the borough council’s planning department in support of the Newburn Sidings development, which appear to have been written by staff at the Richard James estate agency, have not declared an interest. 

One Swindon Ltd, of which Richard James is a director, has submitted an application to build more than 350 new homes on the site beside the railway tracks between Rodbourne and Wootton Bassett Road.

More than 200 comments have been submitted to the borough council’s planning department, the majority objecting to the scheme, citing pollution and access problems and claiming part of the site has become a haven for wildlife

They include a number of members of the public who have submitted multiple comments.

Swindon Advertiser:

The site from Park Lane Picture: DAVE COX


Of the 30 in favour of the development, 11 appear to have been submitted by members of staff at Richard James, including two directors. 

None of those commenting declare an interest in the site.

A further three comments appear to have been submitted by staff at South West Mortgages, a broker which has a base in the estate agents’ offices in Old Town. 

Business leaders are also among those to comment in support of the application. 

Mike Conner, boss of Old Town tech firm Appsbroker and owner of a private Pembrokeshire island, wrote: “I have a concern that when arriving by train Swindon does not exhibit great signs of vitality for my prospective customers or employees. 

“This development not only tidies-up an eyesore but creates aspirational housing for young families and professionals.”

Peter Allen, general manager of Blagrove-based pharmaceutical company Catalent, said: “I applaud the courage and bravery of the developer to take on this land, and in time those who live in close proximity of the proposed development will all prosper as the new facilities open up to everyone, and as the residential area becomes one of the most desirable in Swindon to live in.”

'Bang out of order'

Coun Junab Ali, a Labour ward councillor and former Swindon mayor, accused the company of "gerrymandering". 

He said the comments had been reported to the borough council’s planning department. “It’s bang out of order for me and it shouldn’t have been allowed.” 

Coun Ali added: “Fourteen years of being on the council and I’ve been on-and-off the planning committee and I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

Swindon Advertiser:

Coun Junab Ali Picture: CLARE GREEN

Speaking at a meeting of South Swindon Parish Council last month, Coun Patrick Herring said the comments from staff members at the firm stuck in the teeth. 

He said: “There are a large number of public comments on there already. They are almost universally objection[s]. 

“Something that has come to light and I believe it is in the report but it does bear mentioning because it does stick in the teeth a bit is that the few in support, a large percentage of those appear to have been submitted by employees of the developer.”

Richard James' comment

The Adver asked Mr James whether members of staff or business leaders had been asked to submit comments in support of the application. 

In a statement, Mr James said: “It’s no secret in my business or in my network of friends and acquaintances, that I’m an enthusiastic supporter of Swindon.  I’ve talked passionately  to many people over the last 5 years about this project and what I believe are the benefits to our town, our businesses and our local economy.

“The business leaders I have spoken to about this scheme all agree on one thing, a tired town centre does little to help them attract and recruit talent to Swindon despite a wealth of well paid and skilled jobs on offer. The fact that some have made the effort to support an ambitious regeneration scheme in the Town centre should not therefore be surprising. 

Swindon Advertiser:

The pllanning application notice Picture: DAVE COX

“I’m really proud of this scheme, It’s an imaginative use of an industrial brownfield site that will help to improve perceptions of our town for millions of people that travel by rail or visit the Designer outlet. It will all also provide much needed high quality homes in one of Swindon’s most sustainable locations.

“It’s my understanding that improving the Town centre is a priority for Swindon Borough Council, For the record, I’m supportive of any well designed and sustainable development that helps inject life into our local economy. I’d like to think the vast majority of my 120 local employees feel the same way and  I am encouraged by the fact that a handful have written letters of support. They certainly weren’t required or instructed to do so.” 

Swindon Borough Council comments

A Swindon Borough Council spokesman said: “We have received a lot of comments relating to the planning application for development at Newburn Sidings.

“Every letter relating to a planning application is read and recorded. When a report is written on the planning application it will confirm the number of representations received –  objections, support and comment. 

“A third party has researched people who have supported the scheme and has found that several letters in support of the application were written by people who work for companies that may have a financial interest in the site.

“This comment will also be included in the report.”