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Community divided over merger for town and parish councils

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THEproposal that Melksham’s two councils should be merged, to create one unified council, continues to divide the community.

Residents from the town and the parish met at a public meeting hosted by Wiltshire Council earlier this month to discuss the proposal to abolish both Melksham Town Council and Melksham Without Parish Council, to create one larger council in their place.

Supporters of the merger argued that Melksham would benefit from having ‘one voice’ and that a larger unified council would be better suited to support the needs of the growing population.

Whilst supporters of leaving the two councils as they are, argued that Melksham is already thriving and raised concerns that a larger council would not support the smaller communities, instead focussing on the town.

Speaking at the meeting, deputy leader of Wiltshire Council, Richard Clewer, described the proposed merger as ‘complex’ and said that a decision by the council would have to be made before November this year – to allow time for any new council structure to be ready for the 2021 local elections.

At the meeting, town resident, Brian Warwick said, “Look at the future and not the past – consider the growth of Melksham, the future of our young people and the issues we will be facing in the coming years. 

“I want to see the right infrastructure here within our town under one completely new council – it is not a takeover by the town or parish. I feel we are getting away from the ‘toy town’ attitude and are now hopefully progressing and looking at what is better for Melksham in the coming years.  

“Look at the future, don’t become parochial on this, parochialism is not going to help the young people of our town in the future. Look at what is best long-term for Melksham, and not just your own patch.”

Town councillor Terri Welch added, “If we were one Melksham council, this council would be considerably larger and come fourth in Wiltshire.

“We need to have the cohesion of one council.”

Speaking against the merger, clerk for Melksham Without Parish Council, Teresa Strange said, “We’ve heard a lot about Melksham needing ‘one voice’ and that Melksham gets no investment – Oak is getting an extension, we’re having a campus, Boris Johnson has managed to spot us nationally and given us the money for a bypass, the Farmers Roundabout was improved, and businesses like Knorr-Bremse have moved to Melksham Without. This argument that this ‘doesn’t happen’ is just not sensible.

“Also, as a parent of a 14 and 16 year old, I don’t think that their future is any different whether there is one council or two. And as a trustee of Young Melksham who run Canberra Youth Centre – I can tell you that they get funding from both councils, so this other argument that everybody from Melksham Without comes into the town and drains all the services and doesn’t contribute to it, is also not correct.”

Following the pre-consultation phase, which closed on Wednesday 26th February, Wiltshire Council’s electoral review committee will now prepare draft recommendations of proposals to changes to local governance that will be consulted on in the coming months.

Provisional dates for public meetings as part of the formal consultation are Tuesday 28th April at Bowerhill Village Hall, 7pm, and Thursday 30th April at United Church, 7pm – both meetings will be to discuss any proposed changes in the Melksham and surrounding area that have progressed to the next stage.

For more information, visit: www.wiltshire.gov.uk /council-democracy-cgr

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