THE fate of a Swindon landmark, congestion and an increasing number of HMOs are among hot topics for voters in Old Town.

The ward is where the original Swindon recorded in the Domesday book in 1086 stood.
Newport Street dates back to at least the 14th century and the basements of some of the houses there are still believed to be part of those mediaeval buildings. 

Most of Old Town's historic buildings date either from the 18th or 19th centuries, when Swindon grew hugely – both in numbers and prosperity. 

It’s not common to have the fate of listed buildings as a live political issue, but that is the case in Old Town. One of its glories was once the old Corn Exchange at the top of the High Street. 

Built in the 1850s first as a market building and civic hall, it was later used as a cinema, roller rink and dancehall – hence its alternative name of Locarno. 

It is now derelict, in private hands and in danger of falling into a terrible state. Swindon Borough Council has been trying to get the owners to bring the building back into life and use. Whichever party can do that is likely to be rewarded at subsequent elections by many voters in Old Town. 

The growth of much newer parts of Swindon is also an issue. The area lies directly between the centre of town and new development at Wichelstowe and villages like Wroughton, which are growing more steadily. 

The impact of more traffic heading through the narrow streets not designed to take motor traffic is of concern on the doorstep. 

The area is popular with young people, both as a place to go and enjoy themselves at night and to live. The Victorian houses in Old Town are sought after by developers who want to make them into profitable shared  houses of multiple occupation – but neighbours feel there are already too many.

The thriving nighttime economy sometimes comes into conflict with the needs of families looking for a peaceful place to live, meaning while Old Town is one of the more prosperous neighbourhoods in town, there are still things to resolve. 

Created in 2012 by getting losing Lawn to Chiseldon, Old Town is something of a swing ward. In 2012 it elected two Conservatives and a Labour councillor. 
Since then, in order, Old Town voters have returned a Labour councillor, a Conservative, two from Labour in succession and another Tory in 2019. 

A six-candidate race with an independent and Libertarian candidate will be interesting – but both Conservatives and Labour will be desperate to claim the seat this time. 

Holding it will be critical for Labour’s hopes of taking power, while seizing it will go a long way to shoring up a Conservative majority.

Meet the candidates:

Tim Almond (Libertarian)

"My name is Tim Almond. I have lived in the Old Town ward for over 20 years with my wife and daughters and have lived for over 30 years in Swindon. I am the owner of a software consultancy. 

"I believe that the people best suited to make choices about their lives are individuals and their families, not government.

"I want to see more choice for schools for parents, less bureaucracy to allow businesses to grow and for councils to focus on delivering their core responsibilities rather than spending taxpayers money on fanciful ideas that they have no experience in and deliver poor value. 

"It is also time to end the lockdown and to open up the country. We are no longer at risk of the NHS being overrun and people are paying a far too heavy price with the loss of liberty, health, jobs and opportunities now."

Lawrence Elliott (Conservative)

"We need cohesive plans and action to tackle the challenges we face here in Old Town and East Wichel, from parking, green investment, planning, reducing crime, and improving our local amenities.

"I am not career politician and have never stood for election before, but having lived in the area for 32 years, I am passionate about utilising my experience in business and campaigning to help bring positive change to our local community.

"Every vote will count in this election. Please lend me your support so together we can continue to invest in and enhance our local community, strengthen our vital local services, improve our amenities, and ensure that our area becomes an event better place to live.

"Please lend me your vote on Thursday, May 6 so that I can represent our community alongside councillor Nick Burns-Howell and deliver a strong, local voice for Old Town and East Wichel."

Bill Hughes (Green)

"I have lived in the Old Town area for nearly 50 years. I first stood for Swindon local elections in 1984 and have stood every year since.

"I have a wide range of interests concerning human survival, including history, science, economics, and social studies. Over the years I have been involved in a wide range of campaigns for environmental, peace, and human rights causes. 

"My desire for the future of Swindon is to see it develop in a way that promotes human and natural wellbeing. 

"No more huge urban expansion but increased housing only to meet social need, not developers’ greed. I would seek to provide jobs for all in a programme to make all homes energy-efficient to the highest ecological standards. 

"I would also seek to develop an integrated, cheap, and clean public transport network that reduces car use and introduce low-emission zones on polluted main roads."

Jane Milner-Barry (Labour)

"In 2014 the Croft Sports Centre was about to be passed to GLL in a property deal based on the council’s transfer of the Oasis to Moirai. 

"As a retired Old Town resident I campaigned to stop this happening and that led to my being elected in 2016 and joining Nadine Watts as a Labour councillor for Old Town and East Wichel. 

"I am also Labour group spokesperson for sustainability. 

"In both capacities I have had to learn on the job and it has been hard work but very rewarding. As a parish councillor I have been involved with South Swindon parish’s projects to improve our parks, play areas, allotments and our library. 

"I am working for better management of Lawn Woods and the Great Copse and if re-elected will step up the fight for more forward-looking policies to reduce carbon emissions and increase biodiversity across the borough."

Martin Wiltshire (Liberal Democrats)

"I moved to Swindon temporarily in 1988 and fell in love with this town; meeting my wife, I settled my family here. 

"I served as a councillor for Eastcott from 2003 to 2011.

"I have now been living in Old Town for eight years and believe it’s time I stood up again for the liberal values I hold so dear. 

"I studied engineering at Bristol Polytechnic graduating with commendation in 1986 and have worked in the automation and control field for my professional life. 

"I worked for Square D and Schneider Electric before establishing my own company. 

"When I was on the council, I had a reputation for standing up for my community, for helping those who needed it and for calling out bad practice on the council. If elected I will play my part in holding the council to account and work hard for Old Town and its residents. 

Stephen Woodham (Independent)

"I am contesting the Old Town ward where I have lived for the past 16 years. 

"Having never previously been involved in a political campaign, I was motivated to join the alliance because of my opposition to the restrictions we have all been living under for the past year. 

"Whilst Covid can be a serious virus for a small percentage of the population, the situation could have been handled very differently and needs to be handled very differently going forwards. 

"I want to give people a voice to express their political opposition to these measures and to demand that we get back to normality immediately before more damage is done to our lives, our jobs and our mental health. 

"The Independent Alliance in Swindon is committed to a different kind of politics where your voices will be heard and acted upon."