THE final public meeting to discuss the future of local government in the town has taken place and a decision is likely to be made on 24th November.
Melksham Town Council has put forward a suggestion of dissolving both councils and forming a new single council, but the proposal has been strongly opposed by Melksham Without Parish Council.
At the final meeting which took place earlier this month at Melksham Assembly Hall, representatives from both sides put forward their arguments for or against the merger.
Melksham town councillor Bruce Sanders was the first to speak on the issue. He said, “This is not about identity; it’s about governance. We need to decide whether we have an efficient system or not. I do believe that one council will be better to support Melksham and represent Melksham.”
Michelle Tattersall, chair of CAWS – Community Action Whitley and Shaw – said, “It certainly is about the identity of the villages and protecting that. I am very much against this merger. We don’t believe it is in the villages’ best interest. We feel that Melksham Without Parish Council do an absolutely fantastic job at representing us. If the councils were to merge, the needs of the town would potentially come first and we would sit on the outside.”
Melksham town councillor and Mayor Terri Welch said, “This is a very important matter. The town council has always felt that it is unfair that only the electorate of Melksham Town pay for town centre services.
“The Assembly Hall is used by everybody, yet only Melksham Town financially supports it, to the tune of thousands each year. The reason is that the council value the hall and wish it to be available as a facility for Melksham.
“The situation will only get worse, Wiltshire Council is asking councils to take over the running of facilities Wiltshire Council can no longer afford to maintain, one of the items are the toilets. In Melksham there are three blocks that are all in the town centre. So to take these on, for the greater community comfort, the town council will probably need to increase the precept. But Melksham Without would not have to pay, is this fair?
“More rural areas of any ‘greater Melksham’ will still be represented by their councillors and their needs and aspirations will be aided by them.
“The town council feel, and have felt for many years that having the two councils serving one town is simply not fair. So let’s abolish both and make a greater Melksham council.”
Teresa Strange, clerk to Melksham Without Parish Council said, “The concern of those individual communities in Melksham Without is that everything becomes focused on the town. Melksham Without provides grant funding to the village halls in Melksham Without, and they are subsidised so the groups that use them have lower costs. The concern we have is that we don’t know what is going to happen with the re-warding and that the villages may have much lower representation than they do now.”
The meeting was led by Stuart Wheeler, chair of the working group who outlined the purpose and procedures of the meeting.
He said, “I would like to make it clear that the working group has no decision-making powers. We carry out the reviews following the guidelines and then make recommendations to Wiltshire Council for formal consideration. They will decide whether or not to adopt any of the options put before them.”
A report produced after the meeting showed that the majority of people responding to the consultation had voted against the merger. Wiltshire Council’s Community Governance Working Group deemed there was not a strong enough reason to merge the councils, and will recommend against it.
The working group recommends, “There should be no change to the structure of Melksham and Melksham Without parishes and that they remain as separate parishes. The existing structure is considered to provide effective and convenient local government, with both of the parish councils working effectively to provide services to their respective parish communities.”
The issue will now go before Wiltshire Council for further consideration.
You can give your views online via the Wiltshire Council’s website by searching for Community Governance Review 2015.