Melksham Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Lisa and Graham served on the executive committee of the Chamber of Commerce from 2000 to 2017

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Wiltshire Unitary News - Chamber of Commerce Intelligence

In my role with Melksham Chamber of Commerce, a number of "nuggets" come my way - four recently relating to the new Wiltshire Unitary Authority and how things are changing / have changed.

Steep Hill1. Charity shops, which used to get 80% discount off the business rates on their premises in our area, now get 100% discount - in other words, they don't pay business rates at all. I support charities - especially ones that are doing a great deal of good for and within the local community. And I accept that there's a need to standardise across the new administrative area. But quite honestly, I think that even 80% was generous. A 100% discount removes the accountability from charities to be prudent in the premises they take on, and it lands their entire 'local bill' on businesses and householders. An already sloping playing field now suffers from an even steeper gradient, with business owners playing up a steeper hill.

Station2. On the brighter side, the county is now taking a more serious look at overall public transport provision, which has for so long seemed to be synonymous with "bus provision" across Wiltshire. To quote a comment on Corsham Area Board's web site: 17/09/2009   09:39:58 Wiltshire Council have a new team of transport planners, including several with rail experience and we are partnering with Mouchel's specialist rail team to explore how best the new Wiltshire Council can support this important mode in the future. We have set aside £100,000 this year to critically review the type and frequency of service we need, the economic case for these and the infrastructure requirements necessary, I hope this will enable us to provide a strong case for investment going forward. This is a hopeful step - a VERY hopeful step; it declares that we're looking forward and not relying on the status quo which has been in place for as long as I have been involved in public transport issues around here. link to full article

Architecture3. My thanks to Calne Chamber of Commerce for bringing to our attention a change in planning applications on listed buildings. There are many planning applications made, and it has long been the system that some 9 out of 10 are handled by paid council officers rather than being considered by elected members. However, there has always been the option of elected members "calling in" any application for discussion at council planning meetings. This right of calling in has now been removed from our elected representatives for applications relating to listed buildings (except 'full consent' applications). It means that there is no longer going to be democratic input into an element of the preservation of the heritage of our towns, with decisions being made by officials who are not answereable to the public.

Factories4. I was delighted to hear that the new person responsible for Economic development was taking a look around Melksham last Wednesday as a part of his "learning in" to the job ... but at the same time concerned that his guide was to be an exert from our of town who has expressed his opposition to some local developments which enjoy overwhelming support from within Melksham. In order to ensure local input, I dropped a note to the guide outlining some of the points of local concern. A copy follows below, with names, etc deleted; I was / am concerned to have had the following included in the guide's reply" I would ask that you do not make contact with Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxxx at this stage as this visit is intended to be just a brief familiarization tour. At some time in the future Xxxxx may well want to undertake a more detailed study which would benefit from input from a wider range of participants. Hmmm ... Why do I get the distinct feeling that us locals are regarded as something of a nuisance here? (The emphasis on the word "may") is mine.

Dear Xxx,

I understand that you are going "Walkabout" in Melksham this Wednesday lunchtime with [snip]. I'm taking the liberty of dropping you this short note from the local perspective; I understand that [snip] is not yet familiar with the Melksham area, and I commend him on coming to take a look and start 'learning in'. I am slightly concerned at the lack of any local representative at the walkabout to answer any immediate questions ... may I help fill that gap by setting the scene?

Our mayor is proud to tell us at that at the outbreak of the second world war, Melksham has a higher proportion of its land given over industry than any other British town. Since that time the industry has shrunk, proportionately more than in other towns as it had further to fall, and Melksham now has some of the least affluent wards in the county. Recent figures indicate improvement in the poorest areas, but in reality a large element of that is caused by boundary changes. And you'll be aware of the recent announcement of up to 200 redundancies at Cooper Avon Tires, which is another blow to the town.

It's not all 'doom and gloom', though. We've got a major industrial area at Bowerhill, and there many companies who have been encouraged to come there and who are doing well, in addition to others who are struggling somewhat at present, often due more to market conditions in their industries than to their own management. And there are areas where we are developing and with Unitary support we can develop further.

I moved to Melksham about 10 years ago. Before then, Melksham was (to me) just a town that I passed by on the bypass; I had lived in a Wiltshire village for some 25 years, where little had changed for a generation, and the local people were just about starting to pass the time of day with me when I left. What a huge difference in Melksham! Melksham is a friendly, welcoming town. I can recall conversations shortly after I moved here ... "but I've only just arrived" said I, to which the response was "then welcome, and lets all work together for the town". You can see that spirit as you talk to people in the town, and you can see that spirit as you look at town development.

I went to the planning meeting at the very start of the year as which Asda asked for permission to build a new store. And it was notable how very much in favour the town was for the application; for sure, some of us had detailed questions to raise, but the store was overwhelmingly wanted and was passed. Taking another case - as I look out of my window as I write this letter, I can see traffic queueing at the temporary lights for the footpath works in associate with the new Melksham Oak school, and at times our home is vibrating as HGVs idle in the traffic jam. But - once concerns about the narrow footpath, etc, have been addressed, you won't find us being NIMBYs.

Some 100 acres of land are identified around Melksham for housing development through the RSS strategy - that's more than have been identified on other towns nearby, including the SSTCs such as Chippenham and Trowbridge - which as not all that much larger. Melksham is set to grow by around 50% in the next 15 years, and although the housing land seems earmarked, where the jobs / employment are to come from - and from a fairly low base - isn't so obvious. I'm certainly very concerned, as a representative of Melksham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at the apparent "talking up" of opportunities in Salisbury, Trowbridge and Chippenham to what as times feels like the exclusion of the next tier of towns, of which Melksham is the largest. So I certainly applaud [snip]'s visit this week, and invite him to work with The Chamber, the Town Council, Melksham Without Council, and the other parties to ensure that Melksham develops as an equal with the other towns, rather than officially being a second rate dormitory and leaving those of us who love the place to have to fight for it on an uneven playing field.

Xxx, you mentioned the Riverside in Melksham and - indeed - that is one area to look at with [snip]. But it's only a start; there are other areas where the new Unitary Authority can step up and help soon. CountryWide - who have their most successful store in Melksham - are looking to move it less than 100 yards to a site that's where grain silos are to be demolished; it's something of a 'no brainer' that the town wants CountryWide to stay, but it might not be so with regards to the planning authorities. There is other works in progress, and plans too, which are important but would make for a very long introductory message.

There are other opportunities for the new Unitary authority to take some quite small steps that would make access so much easier and would help the authority to help us attract jobs on a more level playing field - and to help us retain those that exists. Such short term enablers include:

* A stretch of about 100 yards of road to link Bowerhill direct to the A350 / Semington bypass.

* Provision of an appropriate train service to Melksham Station. We currently have 2 trains a DAY each way ... Chippenham (50% larger) and Trowbridge (25% larger) each have 2 trains an HOUR each way. According to Network Rail's GWRUS, there is capacity for an hourly service and a BCR (benefit cost ration) of well over 2.0 in providing that service ...

I would very much welcome an opportunity to meet with [snip] during or after his initial walkabout, and also to co-ordinate development with everyone involved - [Snip] will not be wanting just my view or the Chamber's view, but the inputs of the various other concerned bodies, who I am copying on this email.

This is one town that want to work "with". How do we take it forward after Wednesday?

(written 2009-10-04, updated 2009-10-05)

Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter for individual articles
Z402 - Melksham Chamber of Commerce and Industry
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  [3343] Summer Sunday Train Service Starts - Swindon Chippenham and Melksham to Weymouth - (2011-07-03)
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  [2459] New Web Site for Melksham Chamber of Commerce - (2009-10-18)
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  [2289] pre-Inaugural briefing - Melksham Community Area Partnership - (2009-07-15)
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  [1223] Asda opening large new store in Melksham - (2007-06-08)
  [717] A customer service company - (2006-05-11)

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