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Credit where it’s due

It’s no secret that I’m probably not the greatest fan Coun Dale Heenan has in the town, or even of this borough council for that matter, but I believe in publicly giving credit where it’s earned.

I was a member of Swindon Borough Council in the 1970s, and I can assure you the approach to heritage buildings today is light years ahead of what it was.

The philosophy then was “call in the wrecking ball and create some brutalist, square box type, precast concrete, replacement”, and call it progress.

Remarkably, the only dissent I recall, was from Denys Hodson, rather than any of the planning or environment group.

At the moment, the Borough Council have responded to widespread concern and halted the GLL proposal to turn half of the splendid Milton Road Baths into yet more flats.

The sensitive restoration of the Technical College in Victoria Road will preserve the structure and facade for all time and I have little doubt if Clarence Street School and the Civic Offices are vacated, they will ensure these buildings (and I trust their environs), will be treated with similar respect.

They funded Karen Phimister for more than a year to successfully prepare the Heritage Action Zone bid, and although ridiculous claims are now being made for what the award can deliver on the ground, it is unquestionably a positive outcome for which they should be congratulated.

Notwithstanding the SMAG disagreement, they have shown serious intent to restore and adapt the derelict carriage and wagon works for attractive business and technology start-ups. They seem to be applying what pressure they can, given the owners are private developers, to persuade Gael McKenzie and Steve Rosier to get on and present the planning application for the Corn Exchange, which was the subject of a planning agreement as far back as November 2016.

Following a local outcry and a somewhat shaky start, they have now got their heads down and seem serious about retaining Lydiard House and grounds in public ownership and protecting the unique setting.

The council also appear willing to get involved and acquire the Mechanics Institute building from the present owner, IF AND WHEN, a viable and economically sustainable, future, long term use for the building, is identified and agreed.

And the stimulus for this letter? A most recent and most creditable example, is a determined intent to stop Reading based developer Sukhvir Mander arbitrarily demolishing Clifton Street School to cram a couple more units onto the site. The school is a small, yet important example, of Swindon’s redbrick late Victorian buildings heritage, but I say to you that even 10 years ago, this would have been swept away without a moment’s deliberation.

If you need an example of the past, just look at the square box Domino Pizza complex on our still rather beautiful High Street, which replaced the splendid stone Georgian terrace that housed Philip Mason’s superb fresh food store. Disgraceful. Or of course the 1979 acquiescence in demolishing the Baptist Tabernacle, even though by that time it was already surrounded by pretty appalling architecture.

Cynics will say the council are only responding for political purposes, but I argue this has never seemed to worry them unduly in the past. It is also fair to suggest their idea of consultation, in practice, frequently means, “this is the plan, and we’ll ignore anyone who doesn’t see it our way”.

This is no blank cheque, but importantly, credit and encouragement has to be balanced alongside criticism.

John Stooke, Havisham Drive, Swindon

Value of defendant’s life

In June 4 issue I read magistrates had condemned a severely mentally ill man for exhibiting “astonishing” destructive behaviour by wrecking or attempting to wreck a costly hospital defibrillator whilst in the throes of “mental anguish.”

He had visited A&E because he had been assaulted and felt threatened whilst at the Swindon town centre bail hostel where he was staying, a totally unsuitable place to house mentally ill people, I may say.

The authorities then go on about how much this place of life saving equipment was worth, but noticeably make no comment about the value of his life.

I know from experience how severely mentally ill people have to struggle through life, as my family and I looked after our schizophrenic brother for 44 years until he died of a heart attack induced by the drug clozapine at the age of 68. This drug clozapine was the “last chance saloon” of drugs available to treat people with schizophrenia. No further better drugs had been made available by lack of spending on research and development.

Up here in Oxford, there is at least an attempt to do better, as Oxford Safe Haven has been opened thus providing a new support service for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

This will offer additional out-of-hours support for adults living with mental illness in Oxfordshire, four nights a week. So come on Swindon, you can do better in this day and age.

C R Watts, Butlers Drive, Carterton

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