February 22, 2017
Thoughts on the new Blackmore Ward of Melksham Without Parish
Things they are a'changin with regards to local representation of residents of The Spa, Sandridge, and Woodrow at Melksham Without Parish Council. Until now, they've been included in the same election ward as Beanacre, Bowerhill and Berryfield, and the ward has also included a significant proportion of the new development area to the east of Melksham. That's made it a big ward, represented by 10 local councillors all of whom have been able to specialise in certain aspects.
From May, the east of Melksham electorate inside the eastern relief road transfers to Melksham Town, Berryfield, Beanacre and Bowerhill all move into different wards, and the new ward of "Blackmore" is formed. It will have just two local councillors rather than 10, who will need to be far more generalist than is required of current councillors, where us residents can choose to go the ten different people depending on what we want to raise.
Blackmore Ward will have a very low population density indeed - what might be classified as a truley rural ward. However, it will be far from being a quiet backwater, with the new Oakfields Rugby and Football club grounds, Melksham Oak School. Outline planning permission for 450 new homes east of The Spa is already approved, and there are further significant residential planning applications in off Woodrow Road and off the Spa. The proposal for an Anaerobic Digester on land at Snarleton Farm is also in the ward, and it would be little surprise to find other development proposals made too as there are a number of SHLAA (Strategic housing land availability assessment) sites.
There are going to be tensions in Blackmore Ward over the next four years. On 21st February, I attended the meeting of Melksham Without Parish's planning committee - at which they decide their local inputs to planning applications presented. These inputs go forward to Wiltshire Unitary council and form one element in their planning decisions, which can (in turn) be appealed by the applicant should they wish (and have the resource) to appeal. So inputs to the parish council's planning committee from the public - which I was watching last night - are a pretty blunt instrument.
Most of us love where we live. We choose to live there because of the sweet smell of the countryside, the little country lanes, the views, yet the proximity of towns and facilities. We understand the need to provide more housing across the UK, to make better use of the planet's resources, and to develop new businesses and improve the economy for the future. However, we often ask for those developments to be made "not in my back yard". And that's a problem if everyone takes that view. It's also a problem if we put so much effort into opposing individual developments that we don't make inputs which will offer significant advantages to us in terms of how they are implemented if they go ahead. There's a further problem too if we don't step back and look at the overall picture.
The solution to traffic overload on Woodrow Road may not be to resist more loacl traffic. It may be to route through traffic away along an improved New Road, and in due course to a link from the Woodrow / New Road corner over to the A350 north of Beanacre. Even at the first phase of that, the drop in traffic through the Forest would be significant, and at the second phase "heavies" to and from the digester, should it be built, won't be sent (if the meeting gets its way) up Sandridge Hill into the neighbouring community area who may not have noticed what's being suggested, so may not object.
In my view, we can help our community best in planning for the future by:
* Offering best local advise to people making planning applications
* Looking to maximise benefits to the local community by section 106, CIL and other grants
* Taking a wider look at future development rather than application by application
* Suggesting positive, practical alternatives when making criticisms
* Doing our homework before engaging
Last night's meeting was fascinating in seeing how seriously and well the current councillors to their voluntary job. It also showed what a barrage of emotionally charged inputs they can receive, some of which are misdirected - don't shoot the messenger, who may actually agree with you. And it showed just how easy it is to look at the immediacy of changes proposed that the bigger picture and the request for local benefit via CIL or S106 or additions can be overlooked.
Having just moved housing developments that were on the town's edge and logically in the town out of the parrish, it looks like the next four years in Blackmore will see further such developments in the parish that would be logically part of the town. It will see the two councillors moving from a sparse countryide electorate in 2017 to a majority of suburban newomers by 2021, and it will be there job over the four years to welcome those people and engage them both with the Melksham Without comunity and with the town of who's urban area they'll be a part.