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Councillors angry as Market Place costs soar

THE cost of the Market Place redevelopment has skyrocketed, town councillors heard last week.

The work was due to cost £560,000 but has shot up, bringing stinging criticism from local councillors at last week’s town council meeting.

Deputy mayor cllr Jon Hubbard said the scheme’s costs were soaring and were heading towards £1million at a town council meeting on Monday 15th May.

And now, in a further development, Melksham Town Council, who agreed to contribute £25,000 to £30,000 to the Wiltshire Council scheme is being told it must pay £47,000 or more, or see the scheme scaled back.

The project originally included tarmacking the eastern stretch of the Market Place from the Kings Arms up to Spa Road. Melksham Town Council asked for this to be paved instead and Wiltshire Council said that this would cost £25,000 to £30,000.

But at the town council meeting on 15th May, councillors heard that the cost would now be £47,000 or more. And even at that inflated price, the eastern part of scheme was having to be scaled back so the pavement outside the Kings Arms itself wouldn’t be included.

A special meeting of Melksham Town Council was arranged to discuss the matter with representatives from Wiltshire Council. This was held on the following Monday, 22nd May and Wiltshire Council faced a barrage of criticism from town councillors.

Short changed

“Melksham is being short changed,” said deputy mayor, cllr Jon Hubbard. “We are being asked to stump up for shortfalls in the project and I take real exception to this. I do not think we should have to pick up the tab for Wiltshire Council incompetence.

“What has changed between now and 12 to 18 months ago? There’s been a doubling of the price for a smaller project….You’ve got some really hacked off councillors.”

Jamie Adkins, senior engineer highways and transportation at Atkins, the consultants that Wiltshire Council are using for the design of the Market Place project, said that the initial £25,000-£30,000 figure for the eastern part of the Market Place had been a ‘ballpark estimate’. It hadn’t been ‘detailed design’.

And Steve Hind, principal engineer, traffic and network management at Wiltshire Council added, “Until you get into the details, you never know how much it is going to cost.”

Cllr Mike Swanton said,  “What the people of Melksham want is they want this sorted. The people who elected us are not happy.

“Our message is either you bring the budget into line of what we have to spend or it’s thrown out.”

Anger

There was also anger that Wiltshire Council wanted a decision for the extra money by the end of May and that there was no guarantee that the £47,000 would be the final bill.

Mayor cllr AdrienneWestbrook said, “You seem to want us to write a blank cheque. There’s no confidence that the final bill will be £47,000. It’s left Melksham people and councillors with a sour taste in their mouths.”

Cllr Jon Hubbard said, “We’ve had a gun put to our heads,” while cllr Martin Pain added, “We can’t agree to write a blank cheque.”

Councillors said they faced a difficult decision because either they paid the money or that part of the Market Place would have tarmac, rather than paving slabs.

They agreed to talk to Wiltshire Council to try to resolve the issue before discussing it again at the next town council meeting in two weeks’ time.

When asked by the mayor cllr Adrienne Westbrook whether the whole Market Place project was on budget Steve Hind of Wiltshire Council said it wasn’t, but couldn’t give an answer to how much over budget it was.

The increased spend in the Market Place will also have a detrimental impact on the ill-fated campus project as the money will be coming out of the campus budget.

Councillor Hubbard, who is also the new Wiltshire Council Area Board chair has posted on Facebook, “I have also already spoken to the new Cabinet Member for Highways about the disgraceful situation with the Market Place improvements in Melksham town centre and asked for an explanation how the works can be suddenly becoming so much more expensive.

“I am appalled at this complete waste of money, and again, another draining away of the Campus funds.  Getting less by the minute!”

‘On time & on budget’

On Tuesday lunchtime as Melksham News went to press, Wiltshire Council issued the following press release.

“The enhancements to Melksham’s Market Place, which is an investment of more than £500k, were discussed at a cabinet meeting today (23 May), with confirmation that the work being carried out by Wiltshire Council is on time and on budget.

“The work, which is part of the council’s plan to transform local services, will enhance the attractiveness of the space; provide a pedestrianised zone and a bespoke market square. Additionally, the redesign will improve vehicular and pedestrian access to the Melksham House site, which will be home to the new state-of-the-art Health and Wellbeing Centre, outdoor clubs and St Damien’s GP surgery.

“At today’s meeting, council leader Baroness Scott of Bybrook, said that the work Wiltshire Council is carrying out is on track and confirmed that discussions are taking place with Melksham Town Council about some additional requests they had made to make further enhancements to the Market Place area.

“Baroness Scott of Bybrook said: ‘The Market Place project is making great progress and we’re really pleased to see our investment and vision start to take shape. Melksham Town Council have spoken with us about carrying out additional enhancements and we are in the process of discussing this and working with them to see what’s possible with the funding they have available. The Market Place is a focal point for Melksham and when work is complete it will be a vibrant community space for many years.’”

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