NESTLED against a backdrop of rolling green on the outskirts of Bristol city centre, UWE’s Bower Ashton campus presents much to calm and to worry Swindon residents.

While the redevelopment of the building has led to its architects scooping an award for environmental design, the remnants of the former art college still clash with the beautiful scenery surrounding it.

UWE has been keen to stress that while at Coate they would be beginning from scratch, and creating a campus specifically to fit the needs of the beauty spot, at Bower Ashton they had to work with what they were given.

“We are very aware of concerns over the impact on the landscape at Coate,” said Keith Hicks, head of marketing and communication at the university.

“We are very proud of what we have achieved here at Bower Ashton and what you see when you drive into the campus is something which I think complements its surroundings.

“This has been combined with parts of the original building, which are not to everybody’s taste.”

In fact the view from the top floor of the campus shows the contrasting worlds perfectly, with rows of grey chimneys giving way to views over the Ashton Estate, with its deer enclosure and mansion house.

Part of UWE’s case for the benefits of Swindon as a campus location was the range of employers in the town that could forge links with the university.

At Bower Ashton this has included working with Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace and Gromit, as well as other local production companies and artists.

Keith said: “The links we already have with the NHS and meetings we have had with other employers are all part of trying to create those kind of working relationships that could benefit the university, the employers and the town.”

UWE is keen to stress the differences between what is planned for Coate and what currently exists at Bower Ashton.

While Coate would host an array of different studies the Bristol campus is specifically geared towards the arts, and encourages interaction between students on different courses. These include a specialised printing course, with technology the university claims could reproduce monetary notes indistinguishable from the real thing.

That’s a feature not many people would mind seeing in Swindon.

'No other site will come up to scratch'

THE Bower Ashton campus represents everything that Swindon’s Oakfield site could not provide, according to the man behind the bid to bring a university to Swindon.

John Rushforth, deputy vice-chancellor, said the effect of a campus on potential students is key to a university’s success.

He said: “You can see it as soon as people walk in here. Parents and potential students are impressed by what they see.

“This looks like an attractive, modern seat of learning. Oakfield did not have that campus feeling that we feel is vital to attracting that response.”

Mr Rushforth faced harsh questioning from Swindon Council’s legal team at the Coate inquiry over his dismissal of the council’s preferred sites.

As well as discounting the abandoned Oakfield site he has dubbed the North Star site as not being fit for purpose.

He said: “Quite simply the Coate site fits our needs more than any other in Swindon.

“The amount of work that needs to be done at North Star and the money that needs to be spent on it make it very difficult for us to consider it as a credible location for higher education in Swindon.

“We are still very keen to work with the council and we are still looking at a town centre site.

“We are ideally looking for something around 10,000 square metres that we could move into in the near future.”

Mr Rushforth said that if the Swindon Gateway Partnership’s application was turned down UWE would continue to look for a suitable site in Swindon.

He said: “The council have shown us a number of sites, including one in the Union Square development. “We would continue to work with the council to find a site but if we were left with the North Star it would be very difficult.”

But Mr Rushforth stressed that the university’s commitment to Swindon would remain regardless of the Coate inquiry’s outcome.

He said: “We have been interested in Swindon for a long time because of our relationship with the NHS in Swindon, and the large number of important employers in the town.

“We were talking to Swindon Council before they were involved in discussions with the University of Bath. The benefits of a university to Swindon are recognised by us, the council, the MPs and, I would imagine, the people of Swindon.

“It would be good for the economy, would give opportunities to students to study at a university in their home town, as well as attracting students from other areas.

“No one is underestimating the concerns that people have over Coate, but we believe it is the best way to deliver something that everyone wants to see – a university in Swindon.”