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THE Melksham Campus project has been delayed because of an in-house ‘battle’ at Wiltshire Council between project leaders and the planning department.
At last night’s Melksham Area Board meeting, deputy leader of Wiltshire Council, cllr John Thomson, blamed the campus delay on the Wiltshire Council planning department, who had raised objections to the plans which they said could have a possible ‘negative impact’ on Melksham House, which is a listed building.
However, cllr Thomson said that the ‘battle’ had been won with the planning department and that the campus project would now be moving forward. He also offered reassurance that Wiltshire Council is ‘still committed’ to building a campus in Melksham and that they ‘can afford’ to build it.
Construction is now expected to start in early 2020, with completion estimated for mid-2021.
In December last year, Wiltshire Council had said that campus plans were ‘still on track’. According to the timeline given in October 2017, construction was estimated to start in July this year, with completion in January 2021.
Going ‘off-script’ at the meeting, cllr Thomson said, “I am equally annoyed about the delays on this project. The delays have been inflicted on me and Melksham by the planning process. The planners have been so unhelpful it has been unbelievable.
“We moved the main bulk of the actual campus building away from Melksham House, which is a listed building – this goes back to the high cost of converting a listed building and we wanted to separate it from the actual campus – and anybody who had any common sense would think that building a great big tin box next to a listed building is not the greatest thing to do, so we felt there should not be a problem in moving a tin box to create a space between the main campus building and a listed building.
“But the conservation officers didn’t think that was right. They felt that had a negative effect on a listed building so they then insisted that we did the heritage assessment again, so that was another £8,000 we had to spend to provide that.
“They are also insisting that we link the planning application of the campus and what the future use of Melksham House is to guarantee that something happens to Melksham House, which we are now doing. And this has contributed totally to the delay.
“I have to say that I have had so many meetings and bumped the table and eventually I asked Jane Scott (leader of Wiltshire Council) to call a meeting in our office – all the parties in a room and locked in until a solution was formed – because it’s been bloody ridiculous, absolutely crazy and if I had my way we wouldn’t have any conservation officers, because it is just ludicrous.
“I can’t tell you how frustrating it has been, because it’s literally put us four months behind, for no reason at all.
“We are going to go ahead with the process, the money is there to build it and we have cracked the planning issue so we can get on with it. But it is unbelievable that people within the organisation are stopping us from delivering things that the community wants. Everybody in this community wants a campus, we want to build it, we want to keep Melksham House and make it useable – it’s either going to be used for offices, residential accommodation or a care home, which ever is best for the community.
“It’s been a total punch-up with the planning process. The battle has been won, to be honest, with the conservation officers and planning and I don’t forsee any further problems.”
There was some confusion before the meeting as members of the Melksham Area Board had been told by the campus project team that there was likely to be an 18-month delay to the campus. However at the meeting, cllr Thomsom said the planning issues meant that there will now be a four-month delay.
Also at the meeting, detailed plans for the interior of the campus were revealed – more information about the design will be published in the next issue of Melksham News, out Thursday 28th February.
A public information session about Melksham Campus will be held at Melksham Library on Tuesday 5th March and Wednesday 6th March, 12pm – 7pm.