THE new chairman of a Swindon property forum believes more needs to be done to free-up development land and cut planning red-tape in order to attract new businesses to the town.

Gemma Featonby, a property litigation expert at commercial law firm Thrings, said: “There has historically been a general perception of a lack of progress with the regeneration of the town centre, which could impact upon the ability to fully realise property opportunities in Swindon and Wiltshire, and attract individuals and businesses here.

“Hopefully, as we are now seeing more phases commenced and completed, this will trigger a new positivity about the town.”

She was giving her inaugural address to fellow members of the SN Action for Property group at their October meeting.

SNAP brings together property professionals from across the region with a view to encouraging collaboration and strategic activity in the sector in the Swindon postcode area.

Gemma said: “Swindon is home to a large number of global household brands and has good road and rail links to London and the South. It also offers a skilled workforce and competitive property rates for both businesses and residents. There is much to attract businesses here.

“There do, however, remain barriers to growth. More needs to be done to free-up development land and cut red tape which frustrates the planning process.”

Gemma wants to open up the group’s quarterly breakfast meetings to companies more generally, particularly those looking to relocate or to do business in Swindon.

“Our meetings provide a great opportunity for property professionals and other businesses to promote their companies, establish and maintain valuable contacts and work together to develop exciting new business opportunities,” she added.

“The aim is to update attendees on property and land initiatives, discuss and explore common barriers in planning and development, share market knowledge and to promote the many opportunities that Wiltshire has to offer to both existing businesses and those further afield.

“I want to ensure that our events are relevant, fresh and that SNAP remains a credible forum for property professionals to engage in and influence debate.”

Guest speakers at SNAP’s October meeting were James Lockhart of commercial property agents Whitmarsh Lockhart and Jamie Francis of real estate firm Capital Land.

James updated the meeting on current property take-up figures for the last 12 months, new schemes that are coming forward, development land that is in the pipeline and the trend in rents and capital values.

He reported that retail and industrial property was seeing an increase in enquiries, but that office space remained hard to let, despite a number of grade A office spaces in the town.

Jamie spoke about Capital Land’s plans for developing land to the east of Swindon in an area known as the Eastern Villages. Capital Land has more than 450 acres under contract for a mixed residential and commercial development.

The company is working closely with Swindon Borough Council and its planning officers to ensure the timely delivery of the key project. The delivery of key infrastructure was the basis for the vast majority of questions to Jamie and remains a vital part of the wider development scheme.