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Melksham Town Council has agreed to make an offer to Wiltshire Council in a bid to purchase Melksham House.
The proposal was put forward by the mayor, cllr Simon Crundell, at an extraordinary town council meeting held on 28th March. Cllr Crundell urged councillors to move swiftly to back the plans to purchase the facility for ‘community use’ by the town as it was revealed another party had also expressed interest in the site.
The majority of councillors supported the idea but were unhappy that they did not have more detailed information about the scheme ahead of the meeting.
Possible £2million cost
Councillors were told that the indicative value of Melksham House is approximately £2million but negotiations could lead to a different final price. If the bid is successful, a public works loan would be required to fund the project. To be awarded the loan, the town council has to prove that the project has public support and as a result, a public consultation would need to be held to show that it has the backing of the town.
Melksham House, near the campus, which was formerly a social club for Avon workers, is owned by Wiltshire Council who closed it 10 years ago. Recently, Wiltshire Council has been carrying out £4.2million worth of renovations to allow the facility to re-open.
Town councillors have been keen to retain the building for social use by townspeople; Wiltshire Council had agreed that the revamped Melksham House would provide flexible office and meeting room spaces, with a community hall at the rear of the building which will provide multi-use activity spaces. Work is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
However, recently Wiltshire Council has denied rumours that the building was being considered instead for educational purposes, as a pupil referral unit.
Speaking at the meeting, Melksham Town and Wiltshire councillor Phil Alford confirmed there has been interest in the site from within Wiltshire Council. He said, “An internal organisation has expressed an interest… if we [the town council] are serious, we have to move now. This building has such deep-rooted history within the town. It has been an integral part of the social fabric of this town. For me, it would be a failure of the town council if we turn our backs to it when there is the potential for us to take it on.”
Speaking in support of the town council looking to purchase Melksham House, cllr Gary Cooke said that if the council were successful in purchasing Melksham House the site could act as an alternative venue when the Assembly Hall is closed to undergo any refurbishments.
He said, “I agree that it is paramount that we should keep that building in the town. I think it’s got a lot of potential for what it can do for the town and the community and potentially when the Assembly Hall is developed into a new Assembly Hall or something different, it’s going to be closed for two years at least, so what alternative have we got? Melksham House would be the alternative.
“We have a hall of a comparable size, probably half the size, it is a big hall compared to all the other halls we have.”
In his proposal Cllr Crundell explained that substantial repair and refurbishment work is required at the Assembly Hall, which is owned by the town council, and it will need to be closed for some time in order to carry out any repairs. Melksham News has been told that the town council subsidise the running costs of the Assembly Hall at a cost of over £100,000 per year.
In the town council debate, several councillors were supportive of the proposal to bid for Melksham House but expressed concern that they did not have more time to gauge local people’s opinion. Full details of the proposal were not made available before the meeting.
Cllr Saffi Rabey said, “I think this should be taken off the table tonight and come back when we have been given the full information to read, understand and digest.”
Cllr Tom Price said, “I could have had a real look at it and speak to residents and had a real think about what I want to do, but right now, I am expected to make a very big decision on the hoof.”
Cllr Sue Mortimer said, “I didn’t know this was going to happen, residents didn’t know this was going to happen but they are absolutely ecstatic that this is back on the table now. I think we do need to think about what we can have there.”
Cllr Colin Goodhind said, “I agree it would have been good to have more information, but I don’t have any problem supporting this because we have had the survey and that survey indicated to me together with talking to residents, that people were accepting that the Assembly Hall may not stay where it is. There are so many opportunities. Irrespective of all the technicalities, I honestly have no hesitation at all.”
Following the meeting, cllr Jon Hubbard, who was unable to attend, set up an online petition to “Save Melksham Assembly Hall.” Cllr Hubbard said that despite what fellow councillors are claiming, he believes that the plan is to close “our much valued and loved Assembly Hall” and replace it with facilities at Melksham House. His petition has so far attracted support from over 650 people.
In reply, cllr Crundell said, “A decision regarding the future of the Assembly Hall has yet to be taken, and is not linked to the exploration of the purchase of Melksham House. For too long, councils have avoided the difficult decisions and spending commitments needed in regard to the Assembly Hall. What is abundantly clear from the council’s own reports and consultations is that to secure the facility for the mid-term, we need to be serious about a substantial programme of repairs, remodelling, and refurbishment”.
Melksham News asked Wiltshire Council to comment on the rumours that they now plan to use Melksham House as a pupil referral unit.
Cllr Phil Alford, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for strategic assets said, “We are in the process of finalising what the use of Melksham House will be going forward, but there is still some work to be done before we can confirm the specific plans. When we’re in a position to do so we will provide a full update to all the relevant stakeholders.
“However, we’re pleased that construction is going well and we look forward to bringing the building back into use as soon as possible so it can continue to play an important role in the community. We’ll keep people up to date and should have more information to share soon.”