A PROCESS which could decide the future shape of Swindon is set to get under way this morning with the start of the public hearing into the town’s Local Plan.

The plan sets out where the bulk of major house building will be carried out in the borough over the next 12 years.

In total, it seeks to add around 26,000 homes to the town by 2026.

The plan was put together over the past couple of years and includes some of the major developments currently being under development, such as Tadpole Farm, the Eastern Villages and Wichelstowe.

It designates where developers can build but will also make it far easier for the council to reject proposals outside the set regions.

Over the next four weeks, Planning Inspector Mike Fox will hear all the details of the plan and will be looking at whether it was prepared correctly, is justified, is effective and in line with national planning policy.

During the period, any party who wants to air their views will be given the opportunity on a wide variety of issues.

Time has been set aside to discuss issues such as the infrastructure, spatial strategy and economic impact.

The inspector will give an indication of his decision roughly three months after the process has been concluded. He may accept the plan, reject it or recommend alterations are made, which is what happened to Wiltshire Council which were asked to increase the number of homes on its plan by 10 per cent.

Some groups have raised objections to the process and the plan since it was first made public.

Wanborough Parish Council is concerned about the lack of infrastructure in place for the Eastern Villages proposal while Blunsdon Parish Council feels the Kingsdown development will effectively attach the village to the main town.

However, councilllors have said it is vital the plan is approved to avoid a planning free-for-all.

If no plan is put in place, then the council and residents will have much less of a say over where development can take place in the future.

Coun Dale Heenan (Con, Covingham and Dorcan), who has been responsible for putting much of the plan together, said: “The examination in public by the planning inspector is an independent review of the council’s plan to establish whether the proposed growth in the town aligns to the economic strategy.

“This plan has been through cabinet, council and a public consultation and has cross party support.

“This is the time for us to stand back and let the professionals do their job.”

The enquiry is open to the public and will start at 10am.

A full outline of the programme can be found at www.swindon.gov.uk/localplan