The future direction of Swindon’s economy will be played out, to a large part, in St Margaret and South Marston. 

The ward plays host to the Honda car manufacturing plant at the former South Marston airfield, which will finally close this year. 

The site has now been sold to development company Panattoni and the promise of a £700 million investment in the site, which experts agree was not used to its full capacity by Honda, was a boost to the Conservative-run council when it was announced earlier this year. 

Panattoni, which specialises in building warehouses and distribution centres for the logistics industry, is also building a huge new plant at Symmetry Park. Internet commerce giant Amazon has been all but confirmed as the tenant for the new £200m 2.3m sq ft warehouse close. 

Some critics have said that replacing high-skilled and well-paid jobs building Honda cars with jobs in warehouses and distribution centres is a poor exchange. 
The expansion of Swindon to the east in the New Eastern Villages programme will have a major impact on this ward. 

The village of South Marston will become the centre of the who area which will stretch south as far as Wanborough Road. The growth of the villages will also be keenly watched by ward residents on the other side of the A419 in St Margaret – they live on the main routes into Swindon town centre from the new 8,000 home development, and congestion and pressure on services will be noted. 

Created in 2012, the ward put together the existing one of St Margaret with the South Marston area taken from Blunsdon. It has returned Conservative councillors ever since – but it may be one of relatively few genuine battlegrounds this year. 

Despite vote shares in the high 40s and low 50 over the last decade, 2019 – which was otherwise a poor year for Labour – saw Barrie Jennings, standing for the second time, fail to take the seat by just 45 votes. 

Mr Jennings who is well known as a parish councillor is up against one of the Conservative administration’s heavy hitters. Deputy council leader and cabinet member for education skills and commercialisation Russell Holland, who has political control of the authority's budget, is the Tory candidate.

With two others in the race, anything could happen – but if Mr Jennings is able to make it third time lucky and unseat Coun Holland that would be a significant blow for his party. 

Meet the candidates:

Sarah Benham (Independent)

"I am a concerned and politically homeless voter who feels that none of the parties represent my views on vaccine passports, lockdowns and the damage done to businesses and lives.

"I want to give the borough the opportunity to vote against these attacks on our liberties."

Kate Freeman (Green)

"I think that Green ideas are ones that everyone can get behind; taking care of our neighbourhoods and planet so that we have clean air and a clean world for future generations means that we can take care of one another too. 

"For me, this means valuing paid and unpaid work, making sure that we can all contribute to society to the best of our abilities, and ensuring that both burdens and opportunities are shared. 

"I have lived in Swindon for five years. I have worked in the renewable energy industry for all my working life. I also enjoy singing and am a keen gardener."

Russell Holland (Conservative) 

"It’s been a great privilege to represent the residents of Stratton and St Margaret and South Marston since 2007 and I’m proud to call Stratton home.
"I’ll always remember speaking side by side with residents at the packed Wyvern Theatre when we successfully resisted the wind turbines and at the Steam museum opposing the incinerator.

"I’m especially grateful for the residents who supported Justin Tomlinson MP and I in our campaign to get Labour’s plan for 12,000 houses down to 8,000. We really can’t afford to let Labour pursue another 4,000 houses.

"I've really enjoyed getting to know all the residents I have met at community fetes, fundraisers, tree planting, litter picks and through the popular Stratton St Margaret and South Marston Facebook group which I run.

"I’m the only experienced local candidate who will always put residents first."

Barrie Jennings (Labour)

"I live in the ward and am a local parish councillor and author of the Stratton Parish Council Newsletter. 

"I played a leading role in SKIP (Stop Keypoint Incinerator Project) and you may have met me at one of my community litter picks. Like in my parish councillor’s role I believe that residents deserve to be served all year round and not just at election time. 

"Holding regular surgeries and producing regular ward-wide newsletters, I want to see Swindon Council provide better value for money and not just large council tax rises with worse services, which has seen potholes not filled and bus services decimated. 

"I am proud that as chair of the parish finance committee I have delivered a freeze in the precept over the last two years, whilst Conservative-run Swindon Council has been hiking up our council tax even during a recession and pandemic. Swindon deserves better."