There was welcome news for Swindon last week as Nationwide announced that they have teamed up with Swindon Borough Council in a community lead housing project, which could see more than 200 new homes built on the Oakfield campus site.
Following the announcement, I met Nationwide's Chief Executive Joe Garner and senior representatives to discuss the initiative and housing supply issues more generally.
This multi-million-pound housing regeneration project is great news for the town. Oakfield campus is a brownfield site, which has been unoccupied for seven years and is ideal for the building of much needed homes in our town.
I am pleased that Nationwide have said that they will work with the local community to decide on the number and mix of properties to be built and would encourage as many people as possible to register their interest and take part in the consultation, which can be found here: https://www.nationwide.co.uk/about/why-choose-nationwide/social-investment/oakfield
On Friday, I again visited Booth Lifehouse, which is run by the Salvation Army here in Swindon. This was a good opportunity to discuss the future of supported housing in the town, as well as meeting with service users, volunteers and frontline staff. I discussed the issue of homelessness and what more can be done to support people in this vulnerable position in Swindon.
Last week, the Communities Secretary set out details of a new Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel that will help develop a national strategy as part of the government’s commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2027.
This latest action builds on the work government is already doing, including spending over £1 billion until 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act which will make sure more people get the help they need to prevent them from becoming homelessness in the first place, investing £9 billion by March 2021 to build new affordable homes and a £20 million scheme to support homeless people and those at risk of homelessness by securing homes in the private rented sector.
In December last year, the Government provided a £50 million funding boost for trailblazing new homelessness prevention schemes across the country, including targeted support for those at risk of rough sleeping. Swindon, Bath and Wiltshire were awarded £259,000. I welcome Swindon Borough Council's decision to set up a winter shelter at the old Carfax site. Having other support services on hand to help people into accommodation is crucial to ensure that this isn’t merely a short term sticking plaster.
I regularly visit local businesses here in Swindon and I am proud that over the past ten years, the number of new businesses in the town has increased by a third - twice the national rate. As part of Small Business Saturday, I visited Balula’s in Wood St and Dapaolo Deli in Commercial Road to discuss what it means to be a small business here in Swindon. The role of small businesses in the town is a vital one and I will continue to do all I can to support independent traders. For example, there has been an ongoing issue in Fleet Street where a group of street drinkers had been gathering outside of the shops on a bench. There were many complaints of anti-social behaviour, which was affecting local small businesses. I worked to help to get the seating removed; this is the sort of practical approach that our local enterprises need.