Swindon’s growth being held back by planning rules, new chair of town property group claims

October 23, 2017

Action is needed to free-up development land and attract new businesses to Swindon, according to the new chairwoman of SNAP, the town’s influential property forum.


Gemma Featonby, pictured, believes that red tape is frustrating the planning system and holding back the town’s much-needed growth as a business hub. 


Gemma, a property litigation expert in the Swindon head office of commercial law firm Thrings, outlined her views at last month’s SNAP meeting.


The group brings together property professionals from across the region with a view to encouraging collaboration and strategic activity in Swindon and North Wiltshire – the SN postcode area.


Swindon’s rapid expansion in the 1980s and 1990s earned it the title of Europe’s fastest-growing town. It became a magnet for financial services, tech and life sciences firms. But growth has since slowed and the town has also lacked investment in its central area – leaving it lagging behind nearby cities such Bristol, Oxford, Gloucester and Cheltenham.


In her inaugural address to SNAP Gemma said: “Swindon is home to a large number of global household brands and has good road and rail links to London and the South.


“It also offers a skilled workforce and competitive property rates for both businesses and residents. There is much to attract businesses here.


“There do, however, remain barriers to growth. More needs to be done to free-up development land and cut red tape which frustrates the planning process.


“There has historically been a general perception of a lack of progress with the regeneration of the town centre, which could impact upon the ability to fully realise property opportunities in Swindon and Wiltshire, and attract individuals and businesses here. Hopefully, as we are now seeing more phases commenced and completed, this will trigger a new positivity about the town.”


Gemma wants to open up SNAP’s quarterly breakfast meetings to companies more generally, particularly those looking to relocate or to do business in Swindon.


She added: “Our meetings provide a great opportunity for property professionals and other businesses to promote their companies, establish and maintain valuable contacts and work together to develop exciting new business opportunities.


“The aim is to update attendees on property and land initiatives, discuss and explore common barriers in planning and development, share market knowledge and to promote the many opportunities that Wiltshire has to offer to both existing businesses and those further afield.


“I want to ensure that our events are relevant, fresh and that SNAP remains a credible forum for property professionals to engage in and influence debate.”


Guest speakers at SNAP’s October meeting were James Lockhart of Swindon commercial property agency Whitmarsh Lockhart and Jamie Francis of real estate firm Capital Land.


James gave an update on property take-up figures for the past 12 months, new schemes coming forward and the trend in rents and capital values.


He said while there had been an increase in inquiries for retail and industrial property, offices remained hard to let despite the availability of grade A space in the town.


Jamie spoke about Capital Land’s plans for developing Eastern Villages scheme on Swindon’s outskirts. The firm has more than 450 acres under contract for a mixed residential and commercial development.


The company is working closely with Swindon Borough Council’s planning officers on the scheme, which will bring 8,000 homes to the site east of the A420 over the next 10 years.




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