Sale of St Peter's School: whatever became of 'working with the local community'?Our report that For Sale signs had gone up on St Peter's School prompted a long list of pretty cross responses on social media.
So we decided to find out whether Wiltshire Council (who own the building) had consulted the town about the 'disposal' of this Grade II Listed building at the heart of the town.
In August 2017 - a month after the last schoolchildren left the building - Councillor (and at the time Town Mayor) Mervyn Hall, the Chairman of the Marlborough Area Neighbourhood Plan wrote to Wiltshire Council about the St Peter's School building - a commendable pro-active action.
He wrote that the Steering Group and Marlborough Town Council were both asking Wiltshire Council "...to work in partnership with them in drawing up a Development Brief."
The purpose of a Development Brief would be to help guide any development of the site along lines which would benefit the community as a whole and retain it as one of the town's most iconic buildings.
At the Wiltshire Council cabinet meeting of 12 September 2017, it became clear that councillors were set on delegating 'authority to dispose' of St Peter's School to Council officers.
But, say the minutes of that meeting, in response to the "...representations from Councillor Stewart Dobson, Councillor Mervyn Hall and Ian Mellor from the Marlborough Area Neighbourhood Plan Group...", Cabinet agreed this 'delegation of authority' "... would be subject to officers working with the local community [our emphasis] to develop guidance for potential developers of the site."
It appears that in reality this 'working with the local community' came down to little more than including the Town Mayor's letter among the papers assembled for potential buyers of the site.
Marlborough.news asked Wiltshire Council's Leader, Baroness Scott, to explain why the Council had not "...consulted with Marlborough Town Council on the future use of this building...before the sale was announced."
And, in relation to the Mayor's letter, we wanted to know how the Council "...expect prospective buyers/developers to respond to this letter. Is the Council asking buyers/developers to consult with the Town Council or just hoping they will?"
Lady Scott responded after she had discussed the matter with the officers involved in the disposal. The main part of her reply is as follows:
"The Council have been keeping Marlborough Town Council informed [our emphasis] of the disposal process, including the content of the letter from Marlborough Area Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group. Prior to release of the document within the information pack, specific consent was received from Marlborough Town Council for its inclusion."
"The purpose of including the letter is to inform potential purchasers of the initial thoughts of [sic] statutory consultee (as Marlborough Town Council has a representation on the Group), the Group having interest in the site and provide a degree guidance over the potential planning sensitivity of the site."
It seems that the easy degrading of pledges made by politicians is not something that happens only at national level, but in local government as well.