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‘Bureaucracy gone mad!’ Market Place cafe’s plans for outside dining hits council stumbling block

THERE were scenes of celebration on the Market Place last week when the ArtHouse Café seemed to have been granted permission to put tables and chairs outside their premises after initial plans were thwarted by Wiltshire Council – however, the council soon had another spanner to throw in the works…

Wiltshire Council has revealed that the cafe does not yet have permission to put furniture in the Market Place and that the application is still part of an ‘ongoing consultation process’ – however, the cafe claims that a visitor representing the council gave them the go-ahead.

The news is another hoop for the cafe to jump through. When their idea was first proposed to help support the market, held every Tuesday, and utilise the space available on the plaza outside the Town Hall with a couple of tables and chairs, it was met with resistance from Wiltshire Council. At the time, the charity-run cafe was invited to apply to be a market trader – an action that was described as ‘ludicrous’.

Following a huge show of support from the community, the cafe, which is run by Melksham Rotary Club in the Market Place to raise funds for local charities, complied with the council’s request, submitting an application for their plans for an outside seating area. 

Speaking to Melksham News on the day the cafe debuted outside dining in the Market Place thinking they had permission, Martin Elson from the ArtHouse Café, said, “We got the okay to put two tables and four chairs outside. A guy from the council came in and said, “You want some tables, why don’t you put them out there.” I never got a formal answer to my application – I filled in the form, supplied a very nice detailed drawing of where we wanted everything, but I never got a reply. But this bloke coming in may have assumed that he was the reply. It also seems that the supervisor for markets, who came along this morning, assumed that we had the okay, so said that it was  fine to go ahead.”

The ‘good news’ came on the eve of a planned protest, led by Melksham’s town crier, Peter Dauncey, who invited the community to bring their own chairs and sit in the Market Place to show their support for the cafe. Instead, ‘protesters’ joined the cafe to celebrate the debut of outside dining in the Market Place.

Martin said, “We put tables and chairs out this morning and we were very quickly besieged by people wanting to sit there to protest the article in the Melksham News the other week – they disagreed so strongly with the negative attitude of the council! The mayor, town crier, several regulars came along and said that they would sit out there until they were told to go. Luckily, that wasn’t necessary.

“The response has been very positive, we’re delighted with it – we’re doing some good business and it’s all going to charity, you’ve got to remember that every bit of profit here goes to local charities. So we’re working our socks off for that.

“The Market Place is crying out for tables and chairs probably every day of the week – but we can’t do that, until we get more volunteers.”

However, after being invited by Melksham News to comment on the debut of outside dining in the Market Place, Wiltshire Council revealed that permission had not be granted to go ahead. A spokesperson said, “Permission cannot be granted until the consultation finishes on 27th September but no objections have been received so far. Our amenity partnership team leader visited the ArtHouse Café but this was to clarify where the tables and chairs would be situated as their map was unclear. We have been clear with the owner that there is a 30-day consultation period which is being undertaken before permission can be granted.”

When Melksham News broke the news to Martin, he said, “The guy from Wiltshire Council told us that we could do it – and now they are going back on their word. This is bureaucracy gone mad – they are jobsworths! We have been given permission and now they are back-tracking. Everyone in the community is happy for us to do this, even the market traders – people could not be more clearer!”

In their statement, Wiltshire Council said, “We welcomed this application from the Arthouse Café from the outset and are keen to support their charitable work. We asked the Arthouse Café to submit the two page form that is required for street furniture on council land and offered our assistance in doing this. This process allows us to manage the placement of street furniture to ensure that public areas are safe for everyone to use. It is essential that those with mobility issues or visual impairment are considered. This has to be managed to minimise any danger or risk to pedestrians.

“We want council-land like the Market Place in Melksham to be well-used by the community and be a vibrant focal point for the local community.

“There are already plans for the Market Place to be used for events such as a Dementia Roadshow and the Melksham Family Learning Festival this year, and we welcome further applications and ideas from the community and are happy to speak to anyone who might want to use it.”

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