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WILTSHIRE Council’s plans for Melksham campus – revealed by Melksham News in our last issue – have come under scrutiny by local residents.
More than 25 questions and suggestions from Melksham News readers about the Melksham campus project have been answered by John Thomson, deputy leader of Wiltshire Council and cabinet member for leisure.
Issues covered included the amount of space given to cricket facilities; the lack of an indoor bowls green; the length of time the project will take and the costs of the scheme.
John Thomson defended the decision to allocate around a third of the site for cricket, particularly when the first team only play a handful of games a season.
“The senior team only represents a portion of the club’s activities,” he said. “The club has a strong youth section that is supporting the evolution of the club and is working with local schools to realise their future growth ambitions. The club is also seeking to introduce winter cricket to ensure that the facility is used throughout the year to maximise the investment that has been made.”
And he said that indoor bowls would not be part of the scheme because the cost was “prohibitive” and “would only be used at certain times of the year.”
Wiltshire Council came under fire for the cost of the scheme and in particular, the cost of the design and surveys which would be over £1.4million. “This figure represents the cumulative project costs,” said John Thomson. “Some are for survey works and for the first campus scheme. This scheme reached the advanced stages of the planning and design process, but as it exceeded the budget available and did not demonstrate that it would be sustainable in the future, it has been reviewed to deliver a scheme within budget.”
And asked if there would be a breakdown of the exact spend along with who and where the payments went, he said, “This information is commercially sensitive. Following completion the amount spent will be published.”
But he did say that the cost of the Market Place redevelopment had not impacted on the facilities at the campus.
He added that the residential part of the scheme was essential. “The council’s budgets are under increasing pressure,” he said. “This project represents a huge investment in Melksham.”
And he defended the length of time the project would take. “This is a huge infrastructure project,” he said. “Sufficient time has been given for the design, planning and procurement processes that must be followed. Similarly, the programme provides adequate time to deliver this significant build project on this complex site. This is a realistic timeframe.
“This is a complex project with many challenges. The council has set-out its plans for the campus and its intention to deliver. The council has shown commitment with significant investment in the town: skate park, Oakfield’s [stadium], Market Place and cricket pavilion.”
Responses to the questions sent to John Thomson, deputy leader of Wiltshire Council and cabinet member for leisure. Melksham News readers’ questions in bold; replies in plain text.
• The project seems to be dominated by the cricket pitch. According to the cricket club’s website, they play 18 games a season, 9 at home, 9 away. That means around a third of the campus space is taken up for just nine games a year. This surely can’t be good use of the land.
When Wiltshire Council purchased the Melksham House site there were several incumbent clubs; of which the cricket club were one. The council has always been committed to supporting the on-site clubs and considers them to be key part of the local community and this project. The senior team only represents a portion of the club’s activities; the club has a strong youth section that is supporting the evolution of the club and is working with local schools to realise their future growth ambitions.
The club is also seeking to introduce winter cricket to ensure that the facility is used throughout the year to maximise the investment that has been made. This is also supported by a range of social events.
• The King George V playing area has a cricket pitch and pavilion; while not the cricket club’s first choice, if the cricket club played there this would free up the land at Melksham House. This would allow the housing, which seems now to be necessary to help finance to be re-located to the rear of the site.
The cricket club has been an integral component of the Melksham House site for many years. The site provides facilities that the club considers as better suited for its maintenance and playing needs; moreover, being located with other sports and community facilities will help the support future development.
• There is too much land allocated to the cricket pitch. Could cricket nets be incorporated into the site for training purposes, with the club using the cricket pitch in King George V park or a new pitch up at the football / rugby facilities?
See above question and response.
• Why no indoor bowls particularly when the Government and, indeed Wiltshire Council itself, is trying to encourage older people to take up more exercise?
The cost of delivering an indoor bowls facility and sustaining the space in the future was prohibitive. The facility would only be used at certain times of the year and the nature of the surface meant that it was not a flexible use of space and did not provide value for money for Wiltshire residents.
• In the information presented at the United Church meeting, there was an amount of £1.4million for design and surveys. Was that correct? How is that figure arrived at? It seems an extraordinary amount of money.
This figure represents the cumulative project costs. Some are for survey works and for the first campus scheme. This scheme reached the advanced stages of the planning and design process, but as it exceeded the budget available and did not demonstrate that it would be sustainable in the future, it has been reviewed to deliver a scheme within budget.
• Will Wiltshire Council publish the exact spend along with who and where the payments went?
This information is commercially sensitive. Following completion, the amount spent will be published.
• It’s relatively well documented that the Market Place development has had a direct effect on the campus. Who exactly was responsible for the initial tender for the Market Place and why was it, at 20% extra, so far away on the finances & timing?
The Market Place has not impacted the facilities on the campus. There was not a pot of money from which we have drawn these funds; a business case will go to cabinet to request approval to borrow the money required to deliver the facility. The campus facilities have been determined on the basis of need and sustainability.
The final account is being agreed with the council’s highway contractor.
Design of site:
• Could Melksham House be used for offices rather than flats? It could be a fabulous centre piece of the whole site with the Melksham Without Parish Council offices, information centre, even a tourist information centre. It would be much better use for an historic building.
There is not currently a need for this level of office provision or funding to provide this. If someone was to come forward with funding to develop Melksham House this would certainly be given due consideration as part of the planning process.
• The development now seems to be dominated by housing. While the housing may be necessary for financial reasons, surely the main purpose is the leisure facilities. Under the current plans, these seem to be relegated to the rear of the site.
The development of part of the site for residential is helping with the provision of the community facilities.
The council’s budgets are under increasing pressure. This project represents a huge investment in Melksham.
The site design will be subject to the planning process.
• Originally, the idea for the campus to be in the town was to help bring people into the town and breathe new life into Melksham town centre. Under the new plans, the library and the main leisure facilities are now as far away from the town as possible and people will have to walk through a housing estate to reach them. This surely goes against the main reason to have the campus in the town centre.
We will work closely with the design team to ensure that the site layout works effectively and is easily accessible; we may look at additional access points. A full travel and access plan will be developed.
The site design and layout will be subject to the planning process. This site is in the town centre.
Length of time:
• Why will it take so long? According to the timeline, the scheme gets approval in Jan 2018, but work doesn’t start until July 2019.
This is a huge infrastructure project. Sufficient time has been given for the design, planning and procurement processes that must be followed. Similarly, the programme provides adequate time to deliver this significant build project on this complex site. This is a realistic timeframe.
• How long does the council think it can continue to pull the wool over our eyes about its ability to deliver the campus, when it’s clear and obvious that they neither have the skills, money, or political will to do so?
This is a complex project with many challenges. The council has set-out its plans for the campus and its intention to deliver. The council has shown commitment with significant investment in the town: Skate Park, Oakfield’s, Market Place and Cricket Pavilion.
• Can the people see a fully detailed plan of what is being proposed in terms of specifications of the facilities that the centre will provide? These then backed up with a formally signed off set of budget commitments that show precisely the amounts and sources of monies to pay for those plans, over the delivery timeline?
The final design will be shared with the Area Board. The plans will be subject to a planning consultation process.
• Will it ever be built?
We have set out a programme for the delivery of this project. Providing the business case is approved the intention is that construction will commence in 2019.
• Where is the car parking going? It looks like the only place would be the area marked at H&W Centre. If that is the case, how much space will be left for the Health and WellBeing Centre itself?
As part of the design process the parking required to support the occupancy of the site will be considered.
• How many car parking spaces will there be? There was no mention of this.
As part of the design process the architects will determine how much parking is required to support the occupancy of the site. We will ensure that parking is located so that it is user friendly.
• What about parking? They’ve already lost the spaces in the Market Place
• Is Christie Miller to be sold to finance the Campus, was this always the case?
It has always been the intention to sell Christie Miller to help fund the campus project.
• Why do we need it when we already have a swimming pool, sports courts, dance studios, gym and fitness centres and cricket pitch?
The current buildings are in need of significant investment. The new centre will provide facilities and remove the risk and cost associated with operating an old and disparate estate.
• The current leisure centre provider is willing to build and pay for the new campus sites but Wiltshire Council want to do it by themselves, is this true?
This is not the case.
Residential / housing
• How much money will the housing generate?
We cannot provide a figure as this is commercially sensitive.
• Will the houses be social housing?
Any housing provided will be compliant with the core strategy and planning policy.
• Is Melksham House and the grounds under a covenant preventing the land being used for residential development?
There are no such covenants.
• Why is the residential housing necessary? Where did the residential plans come from? This wasn’t in any of the original plans.
Councils are under increasing financial pressure. By selling sections of the site we can support the funding of the project and reduce the need for capital borrowing and the revenue impact that this has. The council has sought to find a solution that enables us to deliver the best possible facilities at the site, but within current budget constraints.
Public space and access:
• Is this goodbye to yet more public access green space in Melksham?
This is not the case. We have reduced the footprint of the original design to allow for residential allocation. The site will include outdoor sports facilities; this is in addition to the fantastic new outdoor facility at Oakfields.
• Where is the access road to the site?
The final access points will need to be agreed as part of the planning process.
• Can access come in from the bypass / A350?
The final access points will need to be agreed as part of the planning process.
• Is the public footpath from Hazelwood Road to the church going?
No plans have been made to change this path at this stage.