SWINDON Council has hit back against criticisms of its development plans at Coate.

As reported in yesterday's Adver, the council has set out plans to build 750 houses at Commonhead, near Coate Water Country Park.

Campaigner Jean Saunders said the proposals went against the council's promise not to build in the Coate and Banbury Wick area if no university comes forward to build a campus there.

However, deputy leader of the council Fionuala Foley said the proposals were all about constraining development in the area and maintaining the beauty of the landscape.

"People need to be reminded that there is still a live planning application for 1,000 houses and a university on the site," said Coun Foley.

"The idea of the Swindon Core Strategy is to constrain this development to just 750 houses.

"I take great offence at any suggestion that the council does not care about Coate Water.

"We are absolutely committed to the protection of Coate and to that end we are working with English Nature to define how best to do this.

"I live near Coate and regularly walk around the area.

"As a council we are passionate about Coate water and want to do everything to protect the buffer zone and the flight paths of birds."

Jean Saunders, and other members of the Jeffries Land Conservation trust have plans to set up a land fund with the intention of buying the land and turning it into a wildlife haven.

The trust has previously fought proposals by Bath University to build a campus on the site, and has asked that the land be re-designated as an Area of Local Landscape Importance.

Mrs Saunders said it was important to recognise it was not just Coate water that would be affected by the proposals.

She said: "This landscape is unique, not just in Swindon, but in the world.

"The council also has to consider the beautiful views from Liddington Hill and the area of outstanding beauty. These views are equally as important as the views from Coate Water.

"Likewise it's not just the wildlife at Coate Water that is under threat.

"The hinterland is equally important in maintaining the viability of wildlife in the area."

A petition against the development has now been signed by 35,000 people.