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One council for Melksham? Controversial council merger debate reignites

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THE debate that Melksham’s two councils should be merged to create one unified council has been reignited.

Melksham Town Council has proposed that they be merged with Melksham Without Parish Council to create one council; and that a new parish council be created for Shaw and Whitley. The town council has made the proposal in response to a request from Wiltshire Council’s electoral review committee for suggestions to changes to local governance arrangements.

However, the town council’s proposal has been described as ‘too simplistic’ and has also attracted strong opposition from Melksham Without Parish Council who say they are ‘totally against’ a merger.

The debate echoes the discussions held in 2015 when a proposed merger of the two councils was rejected by Wiltshire Council on the grounds that the two parishes were  ‘separate’ and  that the existing structure provided ‘effective and convenient’ local government.

But town councillors have said that with more housing being built in Bowerhill, the rural barrier between the town and the parish no longer exists and that one combined council is in the best interests of the community.

Speaking to Melksham News, mayor cllr Jon Hubbard explained, “This is effectively a repeat of the discussion we had in 2015. All the arguments that we had for a merger then still stand now. I was very supportive at the time of a merger, and I still believe that it is the right thing to do.

“The reality is that no one can really say that Bowerhill is not part of the town. To sum it up, at last week’s town council meeting we had a town councillor who lives in Bowerhill and a member of the public who lives in the town, but is also a Melksham Without Parish councillor!

“These are two very intertwined communities and the sum of these two parts would be so much stronger together. The town council has a very clear belief that having one combined council would be much better for residents. However, the town council has identified that Shaw and Whitley have very separate identities and if the community wanted, they would be viable as their own parish council, similar to places like Seend and Broughton Gifford.”

However, not all town councillors have backed the proposal. At last week’s full town council meeting, two councillors, cllr Mike Sankey and cllr Caroline Andrewes, voted against the motion.

Explaining his reasons, cllr Sankey told Melksham News, “I agree that Bowerhill should be part of the town council – however it is not as simple as merging the two councils together. 

“There are certain areas that wouldn’t sit well within the town council boundary. For example, I feel that Sandridge would be best placed within Bromham Parish Council, and Redstocks and Coronation Lane would be better with Seend Parish Council.

“I agree that something should be done, but merging the two councils together is too simplistic and not appropriate. I would have supported a working party being formed, with members from both councils deciding what areas should go where – but that was not put forward at the meeting.”

In response to the town council’s merger request, vice-chair of Melksham Without Parish Council, John Glover said, “Our view is no different to before, we are totally against it. We support that any housing that is built along the town boundary should be transferred to the town – but that should not include Bowerhill, which is recognised as a independent village by Wiltshire Council.

“And contrary to what the town council say, there is a buffer between the town and Bowerhill – it is the A365. And the new homes at Pathfinder Place will be buffered from the town by a balancing pond and additional screening where the school could be.

“The parish council sees no benefits in a merger. There is a clear difference between the requirements of urban and rural communities. For example we have village halls in all our villages and we support many different organisations within each community.”

Melksham Without Parish Council’s own response to the request from Wiltshire Council’s electoral review committee makes no reference to a council merger. The parish council has instead suggested that the 100 dwellings at Sandridge Place and the 450 dwellings that will be built in the east of Melksham should be transferred to the town. And that the BRAG canal picnic area be transferred from the parish of Seend to Melksham Without.

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