PLANS for Melksham House have reached a “major milestone” according to local MP Michelle Donelan, with the submission of a bid for government funding to “renovate and reopen” the iconic building.
And the local MP – who recently carried out a consultation with local people and businesses to identify town locations that need investment – has said that the plan for Melksham House is “to return it to use by local people”.
It was reported in the last issue of Melksham News that Wiltshire Council intends to submit a planning application in the coming months, to use Melksham House as a “flexible working space’.
The council also said that they are “exploring options” to use the hall at the rear of the building as a “multi-purpose activity space” that could be used by the community and also as additional bookable space for businesses/workers using the main house.
However, concerns were raised by a town councillor that Melksham House was set to become a “profit- making venture” for Wiltshire Council and that the community “won’t get a look in”.
But the MP has denied claims that Melksham House will be “closed to the public” and has said that the bid to the government’s Levelling Up Fund – which is designed to reenergise town centres, improve community space and help local businesses – “confirms” the ambition, shared by her and Wiltshire Council, to “reopen the building for the local community”.
And the MP has said that she is “committed to consulting with local people about the best use of community space” that is “opened up” by the potential investment.
“The bid for Melksham House focuses on strengthening the local economy,” said Michelle Donelan MP, “providing community and cultural space and protecting an important local historic building. It would see Melksham House re-opened for use as a town centre hub supporting the growth of local businesses alongside community and cultural facilities.”
According to the MP, the Melksham House bid is part of a “strategic plan”, that she is leading with Wiltshire Council, to bring investment to the town and “revitalise locations that have been overlooked for many years”.
The MP said, “It is well known that this government is investing large sums into areas of the country that want to transform their town centres and I want to make sure Melksham gets a fair share. The ideas and priorities of the people of Melksham have guided this investment bid, including the focus on Melksham House, which is an important place to many, many people in the town and I am thankful to everyone that responded to my consultations.
“It is very clear how the Melksham community feels about the town centre: there are areas that desperately need investment, whilst protecting historic buildings, and that public and community space is very important.
“There is also a huge amount of support for small and family-run local businesses, so I really believe that Melksham House ticks all the boxes. It has been a cherished part of the Melksham community for generations and should be again.
“If the bid is a success, it is really important that local people are involved in deciding what the community element of Melksham House is. I will be leading a consultation to gather suggestions and get everyone involved, because we have to get it right. This is just the beginning of an important programme of regeneration for Melksham and the next step will be working with the council to create a strategic plan that can include other areas of the town, so we can act on more investment and improvement opportunities.”
Leader of Wiltshire Council, Richard Clewer, added, “The opening of Melksham Campus in 2022 will transform the centre of Melksham and the Levelling Up Fund bid for Melksham House is a perfect fit with our investment plans for Melksham. We know from our experience of delivering similar projects that the reopening of iconic town centre buildings can bring a boost to a town. The Mansion House in Corsham is a good example, where an historic building was returned to use thanks to sensible, well-targeted investment.”
The government is expected to make an announcement in the autumn on which Levelling Up Fund bids have been successful. However, the MP has described the process as “highly competitive”.
“There will be an opportunity for unsuccessful applicants to resubmit a revised bid in future funding rounds,” explained Michelle Donelan, “which would potentially allow a second Melksham bid that includes additional town locations identified by the local community as fit for investment.”