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Anger as trees felled the day before South West in Bloom judging

The tree is cut down.

VOLUNTEERS in Melksham were left reeling in disbelief after trees in the Market Place were cut down the day before judging for South West in Bloom took place. The incident caught the attention of national media and BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine interviewed local people and callers phoned in to discuss what had happened.

After months of tidying and cleaning in the town by Melksham’s Bloom team ready for this year’s South West in Bloom competition, volunteers were horrified to find contractors cutting down two trees in the Market Place on  the morning of Wednesday 5th July, the day before judging.

Melksham has entered the national competition for the last five years, winning one Silver and three Silver Guilts. This year despite the Market Place redevelopment, Melksham was going for Gold and volunteers gave hours of their time cleaning bus stops, weeding pathways, planting flowers and painting bollards ready for judging.

Kathy Iles, chair of Melksham in Bloom said, “I thought I would have a walk into town on Wednesday to check that everything was looking good for Thursday and check that we hadn’t missed anything. When I saw they were taking down the trees I just burst into tears, I was horrified. I am insulted that they [Wiltshire Council] didn’t consult Melksham Town Council or the Bloom team about the change of schedule. Ironically, it’s the only thing they have done ahead of time!

“So many people spent hours tidying and cleaning the town ready for the judging. They gave up their own time, which they could have spent in their own gardens or with their families, all to make Melksham look fantastic.

“What’s done is done but I cannot express how upset, angry and insulted I felt seeing the contractors taking the trees down on Wednesday, not just for me, but for all the wonderful volunteers in town.”

The scandal hit national news with the BBC, The Times and London Metro covering the council’s blunder.

The news also featured on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 on Friday 7th July. Melksham News reporter, Becki Slingo, Kathy Iles, and Melksham in Bloom winner Bruce Petty were interviewed and callers showed their support for Melksham, calling the situation a ‘shambles’.

Deputy leader at Wiltshire Council, John Thompson was also invited onto the programme and apologised to the Melksham in Bloom team and the volunteers for what had happened.

“This is a total cock-up and I will be making sure thatI find out what went on here and will report to them about what happened,” he said.

“The trees were meant to be left until after the judging. Everybody knew they were coming down but Wessex Tree Care were meant to come and take them down afterwards and what annoys me even more is that when people brought it to the attention of the contractors they didn’t stop and it wasn’t until one of our Highway Engineers arrived did they stop, but the damage was already done.

“We’ve been on to the Royal Horticulture Society  and I understand that where there is a redevelopment going on, they don’t judge the town or village  negatively so it shouldn’t affect the judging but I will get a complete ruling on that.

“It is really upsetting as we have wonderful volunteers right across Wiltshire and they make our towns and villages great and I’m really upset that we have cocked up on this. This was not the intention of the council I can assure you and I will be dealing with  the people who didn’t follow the instructions.”

Jeremy Vine responded to John’s apology with, “That could well be the greatest council apology ever.”