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Melksham residents have expressed concern after trees were felled outside St. Michael’s Church, despite them being part of a conservation area.
They say that there is also the possibility of gravestones being moved, to make way for a new car park and hall.
Revd Barry Blackford, team rector of Melksham said that they did not realise the trees were part of the conservation area. He also explained that the plans for a new hall are ongoing and the church community welcomes feedback from local people.
He said, “Our plans for possible future developments at St Michael’s have been on display in the church for the past 18 months. They haven’t been finalised yet.
“The plans are to improve disabled access and replace our church hall. We have no parking on the site, which makes it difficult for disabled people who want to participate fully in the life of the church.
“To facilitate access, there is an area of the churchyard with no gravestones which we are considering turning into a small car park. This might involve moving one, or perhaps two, gravestones.
“This part of the churchyard has been closed for around 160 years and there are obviously no recent burials there. The church has very strict rules about how human remains must be respectfully treated and reburied with dignity if they do need to be disturbed, no matter how old they are, and we will follow those carefully if that is the case.
“On the other side of the church, there is a large area where there are no gravestones. We are exploring putting a hall there, as our current hall is not big enough for our requirements. This would also mean that, for the first time, the church would have toilet facilities and a water supply.
“We did cut down some very large laurel bushes, without realising they were covered by the conservation area. I would like to apologise for this mistake; we are seeking to put the legalities right by applying for retrospective permission. In fact, we found when removing them that many of these laurel bushes were already hollow and may not have survived much longer.
“The healthy laurel bushes may grow back now, but we have been recommended that laurel is quite a sterile environment for animal and insect life. If they don’t grow back, there may be other species we could replace them with, that would provide a better habitat for wildlife.
“The plans are not finalised, and we invite every local resident to come and have a look at them to give us feedback. They are located inside the church.”