Last year our Christmas office appeal collected 70 different gifts for children in care over Christmas. Local residents were exceptionally generous in donating gifts and I hope that this year’s appeal can match that kindness. This time we have been inspired by the work of Age UK and will be collecting gifts for elderly people who are at risk of isolation and loneliness this Christmas.
I am grateful to Swindon Borough Council’s Healthy Communities team and local volunteers who have offered to help distribute the gifts. If you are able to donate a small gift for somebody alone this Christmas, then please drop it off at my community office on the Orbital Shopping Park. Items such as fleece blankets, boxes of biscuits and chocolate, indoor plants and soap sets are just a few suggestions of suitable gifts. I hope people will demonstrate the season of goodwill by aiding the appeal, which closes on Friday, December 15. The aim is to show somebody who may be alone at Christmas that someone is thinking about them.
Our office was also very excited to receive our very own Scouts Christmas Post Box! The Scout’s Christmas Post is a fantastic initiative which supports the activities that are put on throughout the year for lots of youngsters in Swindon. The Scouts deliver to the whole of Swindon and the surrounding villages. Stamps are on sale in my office and the last post is on December 14 (to allow enough time for volunteers to distribute).
Elsewhere, the single biggest issue facing Swindon Borough Council is helping to secure our much-needed town centre regeneration and this week’s announcement on Forward Swindon is very disappointing. As the former co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Retail I have brought key developers and retailers to meet with Swindon Borough Council to explain how regeneration has taken place in nearby towns such as Bracknell, Oxford, Reading, Bath and Newbury. The key in those towns were developers were encouraged to shape their own plans, using their expertise and contacts for which the respective councils chose their preferred schemes and allowed them to progress. All of these towns are now benefitting from major regeneration, with new jobs, shops, restaurants, leisure facilities and crucially, for hard pressed local authorities, additional business rates and parking income.
In Swindon our regeneration has stalled as the expensive, failing Forward Swindon has either actively blocked plans, or sought to deliver its own unwanted schemes that don’t meet market demand. Its latest expensive flop at The Carriage Works has embarrassingly failed to secure any serious interest, wasting taxpayers’ money and crucially an opportunity to deliver tangible progress. Outside of Swindon Borough Council there is absolutely zero support for their half-baked schemes.
To its credit, Swindon Borough Council has one of the most pro-active, hard-working planning departments which is rightly held in high regard by developers and retailers. But the evidence is clear, Forward Swindon should have been scrapped. Capacity in the planning department should have increased to allow Swindon to build on the success of regeneration schemes at the Designer Outlet, the Railway Quarter, Mannington, Orbital, Regent Circus and Greenbridge – all of which have had zero involvement from Forward Swindon.
With 300,000 residents within 20 minutes of our town centre and three million within one hour; developers, retailers and employers all want to invest in Swindon. It is time we let them.