OVER ten years’ worth of homes are set to be built in Melksham soon and, with hundreds more in the pipeline, furious councillors have slammed Wiltshire Council for not having control over development.
With permission recently granted for a housing estate near Berryfield, officers have this year approved plans for more than 700 new homes to be built in Melksham. Over 250 are currently being built at the former George Ward School, and a further 650 are in various stages of planning. It means the town will grow by 1,600 houses in the near future.
If all the applications already made are permitted and followed through, Melksham could see 20 years worth of homes being built in little over half the time.
Angry councillors say the authority’s out-of-date planning policy means that local government has seriously limited power to stop companies building where ever they like.
Melksham and Wiltshire councillor Jon Hubbard called the policy blunder a ‘catastrophic failure’, and last week called a vote of no confidence in the cabinet member for planning, cllr Toby Sturgis. The vote was shot down.
Cllr Hubbard told Melksham News, “I am very concerned about the situation we find ourselves in. Melksham seems to be being plagued with extra planning applications and appeals at the moment, but there has been no strategic thinking about how the needs of the new residents and the pressures on services used by current residents will be managed.
“The complete failure of the Conservative administration to properly manage the process, and the lack of an up-to-date site allocations plan for Melksham means that we are now at the mercy of developers.
“The neighbourhood plan that so many people are working so hard on could become worthless, as it is likely that Melksham will have exceeded its housing allocation under the core strategy before it comes into effect.”
Wiltshire Council’s Core Strategy indicates that 2,360 homes need to be built in the Melksham Community Area between 2006 and 2026. It says 1,308 were completed by 2014, leaving less than 1,100 to be built before 2026. But over 1,600 are already in various stages of planning or building. A list of current applications is at the end of this article.
It is also expected that around 700 will be encouraged as part of the Melksham Link canal project to the south-west of the town.
Wiltshire Council has so far failed to officially earmark enough land countywide to meet its housebuilding target over the next five years. This considerably weakens the council’s ability to defend itself at planning appeals, Melksham News is told.
It means that if the council turns down a planning application and the developer appeals the decision, Wiltshire cannot properly defend its refusal because it cannot prove there are more suitable locations set aside for building.
Melksham Without and Wiltshire councillor Terry Chivers supported cllr Hubbard’s vote of no confidence.
He said, “Wiltshire’s planning committee has been caught with its trousers down. Without the five-year land supply the council essentially has no control over where houses are built.
“No matter how much we object or refuse applications the authority just can’t defend itself at appeals. Cllr Hubbard was right to call the vote of no confidence, but the damage is already done. It’s important to draw the public’s attention to this and get a local plan in place as soon as possible.”
There are concerns that Melksham’s services are already beginning to spread thin. Health services, roads, and cemetery space could all become serious concerns if the population continues to grow quickly.
Melksham’s Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, which continues to work hard on the plan, recently reported that local doctors have over 28,000 registered patients; a figure close to the town’s population estimate for 2021.
Despite fears about the town’s ability to cope, Melksham’s mayor, cllr Terri Welch, is confident there will be benefits.
Cllr Welch said, “I am concerned about the number of new houses, and the infrastructure and facilities are at the front of everyone’s minds when these applications come in.
“However, I don’t think people are moving to the town to change it. We were all newcomers once and it’s important to remember that people coming into the town have just as much to offer as those already here.
“I’m sure Melksham will be welcoming and the community spirit will continue to grow alongside the town.”
The following major housing developments are in various stages of completion in Melksham:
• 261 homes at former George Ward School (under construction).
• 263 at Shurnhold (appealing against refusal).
• 100 north of Sandridge Common (permitted).
• 152 near Woodrow Road (pre-application).
• 150 near Berryfield (permitted).
• 450 near Melksham Oak School (permitted).
• 24 near Sandridge Common (permitted).
• 235 north of Bowerhill (application pending).
• 30 flats on Spa Road (permitted).