From the headline on their press release for the opening of the £7.9 million Vale Community Campus in Pewsey, it is obvious Wiltshire Council wants everyone to be aware how much Council Tax payers’ money they have been spending. It said simply “Multi-million pound campus opens in Pewsey”.
The Council’s emphasis – almost boasting – on the amount of money spent, brings into focus the fact that not all parts of the county have received the same largesse.
No one begrudges Pewsey and the surrounding villages their sparkling new swimming pool and fully equipped gym and so on. It is quite probable that people from Marlborough will be using it too.
However, that said, the Council’s campus/hub policy was blatantly ‘unfair’. That was the word the LibDem opposition used to describe it – and it is accurate.
A year or two ago marlborough.news tried to find out via a Freedom of Information request how the Council had decided not to include Marlborough in the scheme. We were told there was no such decision making process within the Council. Which can only mean that selecting where the campus millions were to be spent was a party political decision.
It is clear that some areas of the county matter more than others. When Baroness Scott was slapping down LibDem opposition to the sale for housing of the amenity land off Rabley Wood View, she said they should support the sale as it was “for all Wiltshire”. A demonstrably inaccurate statement.
When Marlborough Town Council was urgently acting to save the Youth Centre from sale or demolition, Wiltshire Council’s coffers were closed. The only money provided to help with the costly refurbishment came via the Area Board. This is, of course, Wiltshire Council money. But taking £10k out of the Area Board’s annual grants budget of £33k merely short-changed other good causes which then had to be denied their grants.
Recently Wiltshire Council has approved several changes to Marlborough’s infrastructure – without consultation. They approved the sale of the town’s homeless hostel – a risky decision as homeless numbers have risen so alarmingly and only in December 2018 the communities secretary, James Brokenshire, reminded local authorities that they have a duty to provide accommodation to the homeless in their area.
Wiltshire Council approved the sale of the social housing units at Moffat House in the London Road. This went directly against their own policies of trying to keep the elderly in their own homes. (These units – now refurbished – will come on the market later in January with no guarantee they will not be bought as second homes.)
Readers may say “This is all history – why bring it up again now?” The trouble is that ‘history’ can also be ‘precedent’ – and in this case it definitely is.
Once Wiltshire Council identifies something they can sell, a figure for the assumed proceeds goes into their budgets, and they will cut every corner they can to get the money. So they trashed the in perpetuity guarantees that reassured those who bought homes at Rabley Wood View in the belief that their amenity land would be there for them and for their children.
In the Outdoor Education scandal they have seized victory from defeat at the hands popular protest: they can sell Braeside – as they always intended to do – and still keep outdoor education alive in the county. Getting this through Cabinet involved totally ignoring a written question to Cabinet querying the process that shut out one of the applicants who wanted to keep Braeside active.
The sale of another area of Wiltshire Council owned amenity land at Morris Road/College Fields in Marlborough was only stopped after a bruising and very costly legal procedure.
The precedents for the future of Marlborough’s iconic St Peter’s School building are not, therefore, very good. Closed as a school in July 2017, it still stands empty. But it stands as a publicly funded school building – Wiltshire Council may own it, but historically it belongs to the townspeople of Marlborough and the villages.
At least it is a listed building and so cannot be demolished under Wiltshire Council’s policy of demolishing unwanted buildings they cannot sell (like the youth centre on the A4 roundabout west of Chippenham) to save on maintenance costs.
Wiltshire Council have promised to consult the Town Council on the future of St Peter’s School. As the building is now deteriorating – and costing Wiltshire Council in a security company’s charges – it is very likely it will appear on agendas during 2019.
It is not as if Marlborough is being preserved in aspic as a tourist magnet. The town is being stuffed with extra housing on every bit of available land – each home providing new income for Wiltshire Council. Yet no regard whatsoever is given to the upgrading of infrastructure that extra numbers of people and cars demand.
Indeed the Council’s ‘Sustainable Transport’ people simply deny that extra housing – as in the Crown Estate/Redrow Homes development – means more traffic than the town’s roads can cope with. Who knows where they got that ‘Sustainable’ label from.
One consequence of this failure to act on infrastructure is seen in the denial – it is hoped only temporarily – of NHS dentistry to some three thousand Marlborough area inhabitants. The basic reason for this is that the George Lane surgery has become too small for the population it serves and the additional NHS services it is now expected to provide.
If local Wiltshire Councillors were aware of the problems they might seize the opportunity presented by the empty St Peter’s School – and perhaps also by the soon to be emptied Police Station – to create a proper and comprehensive health centre for the town and its surrounding villages. This could bring one-stop access to the widest possible range health and wellbeing services.
St Peter’s School would be especially suitable as it has a large area behind it for parking.
However, taking all the distressing precedents into account, it is hard to bet against both St Peter’s School and the Police Station both ending up as new housing.