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If a week is a long time in politics, a few months must seem like a lifetime.

So, with attention already turning to May’s local elections, there may be cause for concern on timescales for anyone involved in the planning process.

We are due to go to the polls on Thursday, May 6, to vote for our local government representatives in elections that were postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With the best will in the world it signals a period of uncertainty for our local councillors and council officials but applicants with big plans for the future would also be forgiven for feeling some trepidation at the prospect of hold-ups.

So, it was heartening to hear from Cllr Gary Sumner, Cabinet Member for Strategic Infrastructure, Transport and Planning at Swindon Borough Council, at a special Social webinar as we explored the importance of engaging communities.

For Cllr Sumner insisted that, as far as planning processes are concerned, it will be very much a case that the ‘show must go on’ for the local authority against the backdrop of elections.

“It doesn’t stop,’ Cllr Sumner said. “We can’t turn off the taps and tell applicants we are not now doing anything for several months when local elections are on the way.

“Yes, we must understand there are times when we can’t do consultations with communities once the pre-election purdah period happens because we are bound to behave in a certain way.

“But we’re still actively talking to developers all around Swindon to keep things moving forward and engage in a really positive way.

“And we have a planning team who will continue to talk to applicants about potential developments on our sites.

Cllr Sumner, a Conservative who has represented residents in the Ridgeway Ward since 2016, admitted the coronavirus pandemic continues to create challenges and poses new questions for local authority officers and elected representatives.

“Modelling is made much more difficult I must admit by Covid because, for instance, it affects how you do the transport modelling that is fit for purpose when the roads are incredibly quiet,” he added.

“We have been engaging on housing but who is saying that after Covid when it is hopefully behind us that we will all go back to the old ways that we used to work.

“Are we all necessarily going to go back to the old ways that we used to work? Are we going to work in physical offices again?

“Not everybody will. That means you have to make certain educated judgements about how the roads will be used.”

Unfortunately, coming to the end of the road in Swindon is production of the Honda Civic but Cllr Sumner is keen to look forward positively in a borough which is increasingly attractive to businesses currently based in London.

“Swindon is going through many changes and Honda will close in July and sadly there are many jobs that will go with it and which means there will be a lot less vehicles on the road,” he said.

“However, the Honda site represents a massive opportunity for Swindon. We did a calculation at a  recent economy meeting where our officers assessed you could have up to 14,000 jobs on that site if it was re-developed as a wider employment site.

“So, there are opportunities there, but you can see how that causes issues with traffic modelling because you’ll have a reduction in usage followed by potentially a massive increase, and you have to deal with that.”

If you would like further information on what was discussed or to explore how we can help you engage communities in Swindon or throughout the south west please contact Freddie Palmer at freddie.palmer@social.co.uk.