Landmark decision for 4,000 home development
By Laura Enfield | 24th March 2023
Plans to begin transforming the largest ever swathe of greenbelt land in the UK into the Elms Park housing estate have been given the go ahead.
Cheltenham Borough councillors voted last night in favour of the 266-home Swindon Farm planning application despite concerns about the strain on the roads and schools.
There were 28 objections to the plans which would see the 20 acres of open fields transformed into hundreds of homes with a new vehicular and pedestrian access off Manor Road.
Residents said the scheme would cause chaos on local roads, existing schools to be oversubscribed and change the character of Swindon Village.
The plans are the first phase of the massive Elms Park development which could include around 4,115 new homes, a 25-acre office park, 32 acres of land for retail, healthcare and community facilities, a new secondary school and two new primary schools.
Cllr Bernard Fisher (Lib Dem, St Paul's and Swindon) said it was "ridiculous" to look at the application in isolation.
He said: "Elms Park is the biggest planning application this council has ever had and if you don't get it right from the start it will never go right.
"I find it difficult to understand why we are recommending approval.
"We don't even know when the application for Elms Park will be and where the entrance off Tewkesbury road will be and yet we are told approve."
Liam Jones, head of planning, said: "We have to determine the application before us. Officers have made sure the road network aligns with the Elms Park scheme. I accept your concerns but officers are working hard to get the Elms Park scheme to committee in the summer.
"Ultimately this is a way of getting affordable housing delivered. If councillors were to refuse it the inspector will give strong weight to the housing shortage."
Campaigners from Save the Countryside objected to the application and said it did not demonstrate adequate sustainability as there is no clear energy policy statement and the transport proposals are "unworkable".
Chairwoman Helen Wells said it was pleased improvements had been made to the plans but added: "We remain totally disappointed that there is no guarantee that the wider road infrastructure will be upgraded to manage the large intake of traffic during and after construction of this phase.
"Due to this issue we expect chaos on our roads in this area."
It has fought hard for years to prevent the area around Swindon Village being engulfed by development.
She hopes the group will be able to continue working with the developers and council to ensure the estate meets the needs of the whole community and preserves precious green space.
The Swindon Farm application is the culmination of almost three years of negotiations between Persimmon Homes and the council.
Following the adoption of its Climate Change planning policy, it pushed for the estate to be made more eco-friendly. None of the homes will be connected to the gas grid but instead will have air source heat pumps, rooftop solar panels and EV charging points.
Robert White, speaking on behalf of Persimmon Homes, said it would deliver the first phase of "a new sustainable neighbourhood at northwest Cheltenham" with 93 affordable homes and 173 open market homes.
He added: "These will provide for first- time buyers, families and older residents meeting national accessibility and space standards."
He said 80 new jobs and five apprenticeships would be created during construction.
The site is surrounded by Gallagher Shopping Park to the south, Kingsditch Trade Park to the east and Swindon Village to northeast. An access point would be created for the estate off Manor Road which would be changed from a 60mph zone to a 30mph.
Cllr Diggory Seacombe (Con, Lansdowne) questioned why everything was being funnelled through one entrance. He was told in the longer term the site would have more access points as Swindown Farm would have two connection points into the wider Elms Park estate.
Cllr Paul McCloskey (Lib Dem, Charlton Kings) asked how long it would take for the proposed new school to arrive as the existing one in Swindon Village was full already.
He was told it would depend on Elms Park being approved and Swindon Farm wasn't reliant on schools being built as there were 11 already available within acceptable walking distance.
Cllr John Payne (People Against Bureaucracy, Prestbury) also raised concerns. He said congestion along Manor Road which is a "ratrun to the M5" would be worsened by the plans and the design of the estate "could have been better"
He said: "I see this as a test bed for the bigger development. I'm not entirely happy with the design of the development . I think because the pylons are running through it, it has been compromised and is a divided development and that is regrettable.
"Going forward it is important that Swindon Farm and Elms Park appear as a whole, integrated.
"I agree that the 266 houses are of real benefit to Chelteham and from that point of view will support it."
The site sits within the wider North West Cheltenham Strategic Allocation which sets out the housing and employment growth requirements for the area.
Cllr Paul Baker (Lib Dems, Charlton Park) said: "This scheme ticks so many boxes of what we want. We desperately need affordable housing in this town.
"This developer has listened to us and come together with the best possible scheme to make this almost carbon neutral. They are ahead of the game and should be congratulated. For us not to support it would be crazy.
"The education department has told us the numbers would be satisfied and highways have said it is OK. We go against their professional opinion at our peril."
Council officer Lucy White said said the design,scale and layout of the proposals were acceptable and concluded: "There are no adverse impacts arising from the proposals that would significantly outweigh the benefits of the scheme and substantiate refusal."
Councillors approved the recommendation with 10 voting in favour and one, Cllr Fisher, voting against.
A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes South Midlands said it was delighted with the decision and work will start on site later this year.
"This scheme will provide a mix of apartments and homes, helping to meet the housing needs of the Cheltenham area as well as provide local jobs and apprenticeships as part of the construction of the development.
"Crucially, our development at Swindon Farm will be a sustainable, no gas community - with air source heat pumps and solar panels being provided on all homes to ensure our community is delivered with consideration for the environment as the utmost priority."
It said the Swindon Farm scheme will potentially inform the wider Elms Park plans which it hopes to bring before a council committee this year.
Outline proposals for Elms Park (16/02000/OUT), made jointly by Persimmon Homes and Bloor Homes, were submitted in May 2022. Developers claim it would play a crucial role in the region's future growth with an estimated £1billion invested into the construction sector over a 10 to 15-year period. Once complete, they said Elms Park would generate more than 5,000 full time equivalent job opportunities, generating annual incomes in excess of £210million per year.
The Swindown Farm planning application 20/00759/FUL and Elms Park outline planning 16/02000/OUT can both be viewed on Cheltenham Borough Council's website.
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