Land near the Great Western Hospital has long been earmarked for a new university campus for Swindon, but now a developer is bidding for an alternative site instead. VICTORIA TAGG reports

Rival plans have been unveiled to build a new campus for the University of Bath in east Swindon.

But residents claim they have yet to be told of the proposed development, which includes 1,500 houses, a school, shops and businesses.

Land near the Commonhead Roundabout, next to the Great Western Hospital and edging towards Coate Water, has already been earmarked in the revised Swindon Borough Local Plan for an 8,000-student campus and up to 1,800 homes.

But David Wilson Estates wants to build a 'Cole Campus' on a competing 400-acre site along the River Cole valley, south of the A420.

Sandy Shearing, landlady of the Covingham Hen pub, in Covingham Square, said: "I knew about the potential housing development, but having a university campus is news to me.

"I am in favour because students like drinking, so it will be good for business."

David Wilson Estates has set up a Cole Campus website asking residents which site they prefer, Coate or Cole.

The Cole site is part of land known as Earlsgate, stretching east of the A419 and south of the A420 between South Marston and Liddington.

It has already been identified in the emerging Swindon and Wiltshire Structure Plan as the area to accommodate the bulk of the borough's housing and employment needs. In total some 3,400 houses will have to be built on greenfield land by 2016. But the local plan, which interprets Government guidelines of the structure plan, has earmarked Coate as the next major development area.

In 1999 David Wilson Estates, which owns some of the land, tried to build up to 5,000 houses on the site. But the 4,500-home Front Garden project in the south of Swindon usurped these plans.

The company has made presentations about the reduced scale development proposals to Covingham Parish Council.

Tonight, parish councillors will meet to discuss the Cole Campus presentation and decide what action to take.

Parish council clerk Glyn Harris said: "The proposal is still in very early stages, so residents have not formally been made aware of it. I understand there may be some concern about the extra traffic it will bring."

David Wilson Estates claims the Cole Campus scheme is more environmentally friendly than the Commonhead proposal.

Tom Curtin, spokesman for David Wilson Estates, said: "The other site is one of immense historic and scientific value. There are also many species of rare wildlife, which could be under threat if the development goes ahead."

Dedicated public transport routes are planned for the site. No buildings would be built on the flood plain around the River Cole, which would be turned into parkland.

Mr Curtin pledged his commitment to telling people about the Cole Campus alternative.

He said: "We are liaising with local communities about our proposals. This will be an ongoing process and we look forward to hearing peoples' views."

Next Monday a seven-week public consultation about future development in the borough begins.

Copies of the revised local plan are available at all libraries in the borough and at the council offices: Wat Tyler House, in Beckhampton Street and Premier House, in Station Road.

It is also available on Swindon Council's website.

The Cole development

The university campus would include an integrated student village and campus style science park to provide employment.

The 1,500 homes would be a maximum of 300m away from a school at the heart of the development.

Promoting green modes of transport, the development will be designed to encourage walking and cycling.

Bus links into Swindon town centre would be improved and a park and ride service at the eastern town gateway is also planned.

David Wilson Estates also hopes to restore the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal as a navigable waterway.

The Roman settlement on the site would be protected and open to the public.

Residents from Covingham and Lower Stratton would be given greater access to surrounding countryside.

The Coate development

Plans which could see up to 1,800 homes and a new campus for the University of Bath built between the reservoir and the Great Western Hospital have provoked outrage among environmentalists.

Coate is now the preferred place for a university campus and will be used for homes if the council needs to free up land to meet its targets for house building up to 2011.

The building would take place on farmland, avoiding the water or the nature reserve to the west of the reservoir.

Friends of the Earth spokeswoman Jean Saunders said: "The countryide around the Coate Water nature reserve is about to be destroyed by unnecessary development. The council can expect a full-scale battle in its total disregard for the environment or the people it represents."