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“I would like to wish all the residents of the Melksham area a happy New Year from all the staff and councillors of Melksham Without Parish Council,” says Richard Wood, chair of Melksham Without Parish Council.
“It has been a year of great change. As I write, the new joint club house for Melksham rugby and football teams is rising in the field to the north of Melksham Oak, and new pitches are being prepared which should be a magnet for players in the area.
“In the New Year we hope to see a start to the new Campus on the Melksham House site. These developments will be of great benefit to all local residents and reinforce the need for the two councils, Melksham Town and Melksham Without to work closely together.
“The recent decision to rule out a merger between the councils reflects the separate nature of the villages in Melksham Without, but when our interests coincide, which they often do, we are stronger when we work together.
“The best example of this cooperation is the Neighbourhood Plan which has made good progress in the last year. The Housing Task Group chaired by Mark Ashkowski has been busy assessing the viability of proposed development sites, and the next step will be to carry out an in-depth study on the most sustainable ones, with a view to consulting the communities affected.
“The same process is also being carried out by the task groups for Education, Health and Leisure, Employment, Transport and the Environment. The whole Neighbourhood Plan will be subject to a referendum by the population of the Town and Melksham Without before it can be adopted.
“As last year, the great unknown for future planning is the Wilts and Berks Canal project. The amount of housing proposed to finance the extension of the canal to Melksham will have a significant effect on other housing developments, and on all of Melksham’s infrastructure.
“Looking ahead, Melksham Without were pleased to comment on the proposed demolition of eight warehouses in Bowerhill which will open up significant new room for more industrial development.
“This will eventually join the spanking new Herman Miller building, the development of which enabled the completion of Portal Road, and the construction of our new pavilion on the Bowerhill Sports Field.
“This was opened in September by the Lord Lieutenant, and is already a great asset to the area. A pleasing side effect of all these developments was the refurbishment of what RAF personnel used to call Kelly’s Lamp, under which the formidable Corporal Kelly would “welcome“ his charges early in the morning.
“We have been very pleased to note the formation and development of the community group CAWS in Shaw and Whitley, the genesis of which was the refurbishment of the Shaw play area, completed this year, in which local residents were very involved.
“Melksham Without has been instrumental in setting up a flood warden group in Shaw, Whitley and Beanacre, which has been able to use grant funding and volunteers to prepare for any future floods in the area.
“This is just part of our quest to make the parish resilient in any emergency situation. BRAG in Bowerhill and BASRAG in Berryfield have also been active in their areas with the BRAG picnic area on the canal being maintained to a very high standard and achieving ‘Outstanding’ in the RHS ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ awards.
“Our council needed to increase our precept to carry out the works at Shaw play area, and in the next few years changes at county level may lead to more expenditure by both Town and Parish councils.
“Government cuts to Wiltshire Council budgets and the inability of the county to raise their Council Tax significantly will lead to the county seeking to offload services and assets to the parishes.
“The Town is already considering what to do with the three public toilets in town, and the Parish is actively considering taking on the county play areas at Hornchurch Road, Kestrel Court and Berryfield (the latter is compromised by the proposed canal) as well as various open spaces in the parish.
“In order for us to do so, we may have to raise the precept again (the parish share of the Council Tax). These are difficult times for the parishes across the county. Do they raise money to maintain services, or do they refuse to take on the services and see them close?
“Whatever next year may bring, we will all be working to preserve all that is great about our area, and to make it even better whenever and wherever we can.”