Swindon Council planners have ruled that the town’s Newburn Sidings site, earmarked for a 400-home development, does not require an environmental impact assessment before a planning application can be made.
A letter from the council to developers One Swindon states the authority considers that the development would "not give rise to unusually complex or significant environmental effects that would warrant an EIA, particularly as the site is previously developed land and no development would take place within the flood plain".
The document adds, however, that a number of environmental issues should be addressed through the planning process, including air quality from traffic, historic contamination, noise and vibration from trains and the preservation of protected species, including otters.
An assessment commissioned by the developers reveals a "moderate to high" risk of contamination associated with asbestos, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPHs). The assessment states: "The presence of contaminants including asbestos will need to be considered when assessing risks to site workers and members of the public during construction."
Bounded by a railway line and close to the River Ray, the 1km long 5ha site was formerly part the GWR railway and used for railway sidings and a timber store. The site which is rated as flood zone 1, was acquired from Network Rail by the Homes and Communities Agency and cleared of trees and surface vegetation prior to be offered by auction in 2016. But the lot was withdrawn. The lot documentation stated: "The site is not allocated for development, however, having regard to the national policy planning framework, development proposals should be approved without delay". A proposal to develop a solar energy farm and education centre made at this time did not go ahead.
The site was subsequently sold to One Swindon who submitted an application to the council for a screening opinion on whether an environmental impact assessment was required. They propose a mixture of market and affordable homes, ranging from one to five-bedrooms. A letter of objection to the development from local ward councillor, Bob Wright, says that species found on the former sidings include badgers, slow worms and crested newts, as well as two types of deer.
Mr Wright told EA that because of the high development costs associated with the site, he doubted the ability of the developers to include genuinely affordable housing. The loss of wildlife and the site’s amenity value would also be a blow to local people.
He said: "This land has poor access and would require two new roads which would cost £1.5m before a house was even built. It is on a flood plain making next to a railway line, making it totally unsuitable for housing. As chair of the council’s oversight and scrutiny committee I cannot approve of a scheme which would potentially represent a burden to the tax payer. I do not disapprove of new housing for Swindon – the current plan requires 5,000 a year but there are many sites which are less sensitive and far better than this one in and around the town."