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Empty George Ward site costing council thousands

WILTSHIRE Council is spending nearly £45,000 per year on the former George Ward site while developers wait for planning permission.

The council will continue to pay business rates – to the value of £91,000 – on the site until it is bought. Persimmon Homes are expected to buy the land if their outline planning application for 270 houses is approved.

George Ward School closed down for good in 2010. It has been used by the council since, but has stood empty for months.

A Wiltshire Council spokesperson confirmed that, as a local authority,  the council can claim a rebate against the site’s full rateable value of £91,000, meaning they pay a total of £44,590 per year.

Councillor Terry Chivers exposed the local authority’s expenditure.

Cllr Chivers said, “This  makes me wonder just how many more buildings are stood empty in Wiltshire; this is the second one we know of in Melksham after it came to light that the council is still paying rates on the former   Canberra youth club.”

It was revealed earlier this year that Wiltshire Council is also paying an annual £11,000 to maintain the Canberra youth centre following its closure last year.

Cllr Chivers continued, “I think most members are unaware that the council even still own this site, but it has only been sold subject to contract.

“In an email Wiltshire Council told me that a legal agreement has been entered into with Persimmon, whereby if their  reserved matters planning application is granted permission and is satisfactory to them, the sale of the site will go through.

“This is anticipated to be later this year, and liability for the site and buildings rests with the council until then.”

A Wiltshire Council spokesperson said, “This is an important development site which the council owns.  This means we continue to pay business rates. However, it’s important that planning issues are properly addressed through the planning process so in the longer term we have an attractive development which meets housing requirements and is an asset to the Melksham community.

“Persimmon, the preferred buyer for the site, has submitted its reserved matters planning application and this is currently going through the planning process.”

Consultation on Persimmon Homes’ planning application ended last month and a decision is expected this year.