Future of St Peter's: Marlborough community involvement key in any decision regarding development
“It’s most important that the community is involved in what happens to an important community building.” stated Council Leader Baroness Jane Scott of Bybrook as she made a clear and decisive intervention regarding the future of the old St Peter’s site.
The future of St Peter's was one of the key topics for discussion at this morning's (12 September) Cabinet session of Wiltshire County Council at County Hall, Trowbridge. Marlborough was represented by the Mayor, Councillor Mervyn Hall, County Councillor Stuart Dobson and Neighbourhood Plan steering group member, Ian Mellor.
The Mayor, who also doubles as the chair of the Neighbourhood Plan steering group made an impassioned case for the real needs of the community of Marlborough - affordable homes for young people. "The last three brownfield site developments in the town have produced over-priced retirement complexes marketed in London and the South East which do not meet the needs of the community" he stated, adding that one of the key results of the recent housing needs analysis was that "for a staggering 89% of people responding, the priority is affordable homes for young people."
He asked that the pressing needs of the Marlborough community were addressed when decisions were being made about this sale and subsequent development, or any other future sale of assets by the Council in the town. The reponse to the survey conducted as part of the Neighbourhood Plan process also showed a need for additional parking in the town, something that could possibly be addressed by the playing field area of the St Peter's site which was on Kennet flood plain and hence not suitable for develpment.
Councillor Dobson emphasised the level of real concern across the town regarding the future of the site, that it was such an important building within the town and proposed that a development brief be drawn up for prospective purchasers.
Ian Mellor took this proposal to a further level of detail, explaining the urgency so that prospective purchasers would be given a clear picture of what would or would not be allowed. He was concerned that if the ground rules weren't clear then a large number of inappropriate applications based on unrealistic assumptions would ensue, all of which would take time to consider followed by possible refusals and appeals, all happening whilst the fabric of the grand old building would be gradually sliding towards decay through lack of use.
Toby Sturgis, Cabinet Member for Spatial Planning, Development Management and Property, responsible for the sale stated agreement with the arguments put forward by Marlborough's team but felt that the regulations in place might not allow this to be conducted within the desirable timescale: "it’s a pity that the rules and regulations don’t allow us to do it a little quicker" he concluded.
But Council Leader Baroness Scott took a somewhat different line: "I would like to go a little bit further. I would like to have a recommendation please that although we agree in the principle today to depose of this property because of its importance to the town of Marlborough that you will work with both the Town Council and the Neighbourhood Plan team and not recommend officers but ask officers to do that before you put this out with guidance to prospective purchasers as to what this could be used for. I think that would be a better way of doing it because it would then be a recommendation to the council".
Whilst no actual decisions have yet been made, today set out the process which should lead to a relatively speedy sale to a developer on the basis of a clear brief set out primarily by the community of Marlborough to reeflect the real needs of the town.
Marlborough's response from Councillor Dobson to Baroness Scott's intervention: "Thank you, madam Chairman".