THE public inquiry into whether developers will be allowed to build 1,800 homes on land near Coate Water begins today.

The Marriott Hotel is playing host to the battle between Swindon Council and the partnership that wants to build 1,800 homes and a university campus on land between Marlborough Road, Coate Water and the M4.

The University of the West of England (UWE) has admitted that Coate is its preferred location for a site in Swindon.

Swindon Council originally welcomed the proposals, but when the University of Bath dropped out the council found itself at loggerheads with SGP, who insisted on pushing forward with the application.

SGP lodged an appeal with the Secretary of State last year, after Swindon Council failed to make a decision over the two applications which make up the scheme.

The inquiry, which is due to last 16 days, will see Government-appointed planning inspector, David Richards, hear evidence from SGP, Swindon Council and third parties, including environmental groups and parish councils.

Mark Fox, of SGP, said he understood there was strong public feeling on the plans, but felt the appeal was justified.

He said: “The main point we are going to be making is about delivering UWE to Swindon, where they wish to establish a site.

“This is good for the development of a university in Swindon, which has been a longstanding ambition of the local council.

“We also believe there is a need for more employment land in Swindon and we need to ensure the development of new housing, “The changes we have made to the plans since they were originally submitted have taken into account the concerns of various parties.”

But Jean Saunders, who will be making a submission on behalf of Swindon Friends of the Earth and the Jeffries Land Conservation Trust, is opposed to the plans.

She said: “From the point of view of Friends of the Earth we have got something to say on every aspect of this plan. This site is so rich in quality of environment and beauty that we need to preserve the whole area. Any development would spoil the what is such a valuable area, both in terms of bird life and beauty.

“That’s why I would urge as many people as possible to come along to hear about what happens to this jewel of Swindon.”

David Potter, from Swindon Council, said he was hopeful that the planning inspector would see the SGP application was not suitable.

He said: “Our policy towards the site has changed, in that we no longer support the development of a university at Coate. We are now looking towards a town centre site in accordance with government policy. There is also not the need for housing at this time.”

The inquiry will run Tuesday to Thursday between 10am and 5pm and 9.30am to 2pm on Fridays. It is expected to last 16 days.