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Wiltshire Council criticised for handling of Christie Miller site plans

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Plans for a highway depot on the former Christie Miller site in Bowerhill have been submitted to Wiltshire Council, but the council has come under fire for allowing their contractors to occupy the site prior to planning permission being granted.

The plans, for a highway depot which includes the installation of modular buildings and portacabins, were submitted by Milestone Infrastructure Ltd, who have has recently taken over a five-year local highway maintenance contract with Wiltshire Council. The decision on the planning application has yet to be made, but it is understood that activity has already commenced on the site.

Speaking about the application at a Melksham Without Parish Council meeting, Wiltshire councillor Nick Holder, who represents Bowerhill, stated he had spoken to Wiltshire Council and explained “that it is not appropriate or indeed sensible for Wiltshire Council to allow its contractors to commence work on sites and then apply for retrospective planning permission. It is not what we would expect a resident to do. In fact, it would have been deemed inappropriate for a resident to do that. I am extremely annoyed that this is taking place. I am expecting a follow-up report back from officers about how this has taken place and how this has occurred.”

It is understood that Milestone Infrastructure, who took on the highways maintenance contract from 1st April, did not have a suitable site in place before the start of their contract with Wiltshire Council, so were allowed to move onto the former Christie Miller site. Cllr Nick Holder said, “I do understand the operational requirements to have got Milestone operational for the start of their contract because the site that was previously occupied by Ringway [the previous highways contractor] was not big enough, and importantly, was not going to be vacated in time for Milestone to take over that previous site. I understand operationally why that needed to be done, but that should not have been at the failure to consult effectively with the local community.”

Cllr Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council, said: “Milestone Infrastructure has begun using the former Christie Miller Leisure Centre site in Melksham as an operational highways depot after identifying it as the only site from which highways operations could commence at the start of their contract. Historically, as well as the sports centre, the site has been used to house some of the council’s essential highways maintenance functions. Milestone Infrastructure commenced pre-application discussions with the council’s planning service and applied to formally use the site as an operational depot before their contract started. However due to statutory planning application periods, a decision could not be made before 1 April 2023 and we have made them fully aware of the risk of using the site on a temporary basis.

“Setting up the logistics at pace of a contract of this scale and complexity is always challenging and this site is the best available to meet operational needs. The council takes breaches of planning control very seriously and this use is taking place for a limited period of time to meet a specific operational need whilst the planning application is considered. Should planning permission not be granted, Milestone Infrastructure will need to cease its use of the site and seek an alternative location.”

Discussing the plans at a full council meeting, councillors at Melksham Without Parish Council agreed that they had no objection, but raised concerns about parking for the planned site. Questions were raised about whether the current plans had adequate parking for all staff and visitors to the site. Councillors also welcomed the green policies being sought by Milestone.

The deadline for consultation on the application is 2nd May. The decision will be made by Wiltshire Council.

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