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Neighbourhood plan delay as Melksham councils try to agree terms

A PROPOSED joint neighbourhood plan between Melksham Town and Melksham Without Councils has stalled as both try to agree on the percentage of financial input each should pay. 

The plan, if it goes ahead, would involve the whole community in shaping Melksham’s future in terms of where future housing is built, transport infrastructure, recreation, the environment and community facilities.

Neighbourhood plans establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in an area, such as where new homes and offices should be built and what they should look like and are intended to allow local people to get the right type of development for their community.

However, for the proposal to work in Melksham it requires the two councils to agree on the amount of financial input both should pay to fund the plan.

Originally it was proposed that both should pay 50%, but Melksham Without Parish Council deemed this unfair as they currently have around a third of the properties in the Melksham area (Melksham Town and Melksham Without combined), so receive less income from Council Tax.

As a result, Melksham Without say they should have to pay less into the neighbourhood plan. They proposed that the financial split should be done per capita which means they would have to input a third of the cost and Melksham Town Council would have to fund the rest.

The town council responded with an offer to pay for 55% of the cost of the neighbourhood plan. This new offer was agreed by Melksham Without, but with the proviso that it is reviewed in 12 months’ time. This proviso has caused the process to stall as the town council want to know where they stand for the full three-year tenure of the neighbourhood plan.

Melksham Town Council clerk Stephen Gray said, “We very much want to work with the parish council on the neighbourhood plan and feel it is important to get the details correct before the process begins.

“We want to know where we stand for the whole three years and it is as simple as that. We are very conscious that we would be spending public money, so don’t want to commit to spending thousands in the first year, only to find that we then have to pay more after the review.

“We are hopeful both councils will agree the details shortly and we can proceed with the neighbourhood plan.”

Melksham Without Parish Council chair Richard Wood said, “We want to work with the town council on the neighbourhood plan as many of our concerns are shared with theirs and vice-versa. We reluctantly accepted their offer which passed by a small majority and we feel it is only right to review it on a year-by-year basis.

“We have done our research and looking at similar situations elsewhere it is done by per capita as that makes sense, but we are hopeful we get an agreement with the town council as soon as possible as we need to start moving forward with this.

“Reluctantly we are going to have to start planning to do this on our own, but we don’t want to do that; but for the good of our parishioners we have to start planning because we can’t keep waiting.”