Without being too partisan, one of the jobs that falls to the Leader of the Council is to lobby the government of the day about all issues that affect the local authority, a task that has taken me to Manchester this week. Given the breadth of services that the Council must ensure are provided, let alone those we could provide, this is nearly a full-time task.
Supporting new homes in the right places
One particular issue affecting Swindon is the delay between developers receiving planning permission and when construction begins. Swindon has a proud record of supporting new homes and even if we cannot match the construction rates of 15 years ago when we were Europe’s fastest growing town, I am fully committed to the continued managed provision of new housing. However, although the Council has granted planning permission for over 7,000 houses, construction lags way behind.
Emphasising the key role of parish Neighbourhood Plans
This gives us a particular problem as it means the planning inspectors are likely to attach less importance to our Local Plan or parish Neighbourhood Plans. Seeing the latter get over-ruled is particularly galling since I know how hard the parishes worked to produce them and all such Plans have been endorsed by residents. As was agreed by all councillors from all parties at Council last week, I will be writing to the Secretary of State to make the case for changing the policies to managed housing growth. I did meet with the Minister for Housing on Tuesday and I certainly made Council’s feelings known to him.
Alongside this, I am also looking for any opportunity to see how government programmes can support the Council’s Vision. In particular, I am working with other council leaders of all parties so ensure that Swindon continues to benefit from investment in transport infrastructure.
Seeking the western rail link to Heathrow, improved links to Oxford and beyond
Very soon we will all enjoy improved rail services as a result of the upgrade of the rail line to Paddington. Our next goal is to secure a western rail access to Heathrow, which would put Swindon less than one hour away from this key international airport and so make us more accessible for business people.
We are still seeking funding to improve our travel links to Oxford, which is part of a wider ambition to improve communications up to Cambridge and Norwich. I am confident that this would include new rail services as well as better roads, which will allow Swindon to act as the western anchor point for a new innovation arc around west, north, and north east London.
These are but a few of the long-term investments that are essential for our future and, once delivered, will enable Swindon to build on its prosperous, successful reputation.