Can Town Council's proposal for housing needs assessment stop the great Marlborough sell-off?

Written by Tony Millett on .

At the meeting of the full town council on Monday (November 7) councillors will debate a proposal to spend earmarked reserves on a Housing Needs Assessment as part of the preparation for a Neighbourhood Plan.  Every week that passes shows this stable door is closing rather quickly and social housing and social facilities of various sorts are being closed and sold off.

After Guinness Partnership's plan to sell off Moffat House and the closure and proposed sale by auction of the St Margaret's Mead homeless hostel, comes planning permission to turn Postern House - once an inpatient assessment and treatment centre for adults with learning disabilities - into commercially developed flats.

At their recent Planning Committee meeting (October 31), town councillors voted down a motion that objected to a planning application to turn the building - now known as Cherry Orchard House and now owned by Bridgewood plc - into eight two-bedroom flats and two one-bedroom flats.

Councillors "very much regretted the loss of amenity to local people" and discussed whether there might be a way to ensure profits from this scheme returned somehow to the local community.  In the background were a number of complaints as to the way the consultation on the closure of Postern House had been carried out.

It was noted that Wiltshire Council's Highways "had already indicated little concern about access" to the development and the consequent increase in traffic onto the Salisbury Road once again appeared to have been ignored.

Councillor Fogg agreed to call in the application for consideration by Wiltshire Council's Eastern Planning Committee so these points could be discussed.

The planning application did not just involve the conversion of the building, but also the erection of three two-bedroom 'chalet bungalows' with parking.

At the opening of the meeting a local resident, Dr Charmaine Bartlett, expressed concern that local health services would not benefit from the development and pointed out that the site had been owned by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust - based in Hampshire.

Chair of the Planning Committee, [correction] Councillor Mervyn Hall, said that the legal owners of the of the land would be the beneficiaries of the development and while this may not be morally right, it was legal and was not a planning matter.  The Town Clerk agreed to try and clarify the ownership of the legal title to then land.

Speaking after the meeting, one resident (who preferred not to be named) told Marlborough.News that while the town needed the sort of small flats envisaged for this development, there was nothing, she claimed, to stop them being sold to weekenders or College parents.

She was also concerned about the 'degrading of social facilities' in the town - she quoted the Sure Start Centre (now standing empty) and Moffat House.  She was worried about the future social fabric of the town.