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No money for Westbury Hub- Westbury getting a raw deal again say critics

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PLANS for a community hub in Westbury Library have hit a stumbling block following a feasibility study which concluded that funds cannot be raised from the library site. 

It’s brought fresh accusations that Westbury is getting a raw deal from Wiltshire Council. While other towns like Corsham, Melksham and Pewsey are getting multi-million pound campuses, Westbury it seems, isn’t even getting an updated library.

Back in May last year, local campaigners criticised Wiltshire Council saying the town had been ‘cheated’ when plans to upgrade Westbury Swimming Pool, Leighton Recreation Centre and Westbury library were shelved.

At the time, cllr John Thomson, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing Centres at Wiltshire Council, said in a letter to WHN that “no funding has been allocated or approved for the provision of a campus in Westbury.” But that “I recognised that there is a need for additional community space; particularly in the town centre, to use for meetings and events and activities. On this basis, I agreed that a feasibility study to improve the library to provide community space be undertaken…This work is now underway and, subject to the feasibility, will be implemented to improve the existing central library site.

“The council will continue to review the requirements on Westbury as part of the future growth of the town, but in the meantime, I will ensure that a vibrant hub for use by the local community is provided.”

Now though, even the plans for a ‘vibrant hub’ have hit a snag.

Community hubs, which have been introduced in other Wiltshire towns, offer services such as a computer learning area, access to council services, a cafe and a community space for meetings, events and activities. It was hoped that funding could have been found for a hub at Westbury Library if the upper level of the library building was converted for commercial or residential use.

With “no money in the capital budget” to fund the new hub for Westbury, Wiltshire Council had actioned a feasibility study  to explore the option of generating capital for a library hub from the upper level of the building.

However, at the Westbury Area Board meeting on Thursday 12th October, it was announced that the study identified that converting the upper level of the building for commercial or residential use would not generate enough money to achieve the goal of the project becoming self-financing.

It was also revealed that the estimated cost of the renovation was around £1million, due to the constraints of the building due to its listed status and the cost of building regulations to deliver the desired services at the hub.

At the Westbury Area Board meeting, cllr Russell Hawker said, “There is no money in the capital budget and what was promised, some months ago, was a feasibility study to see if it could be done by raising money from upstairs, and it appears that converting the upstairs into flats and so on will not make money. So we’re back to a situation where there is no money.”

John Thomson, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for hubs said, “We recognise the need to develop a community hub in Westbury community. A recent feasibility focused on the possibility of provision in the existing library building. As this is a listed building it has proved to be cost prohibitive, given the building constraints. We will continue to explore options for a community hub for Westbury.”

The news comes at a time when Wiltshire Council is coming under fire from local people.

Recent letters in WHN have included heavy criticism of the council.

“Westbury has long been a town misused and abused by Wiltshire Council, and sadly there is no reason to suppose that this will change.  Westbury people deserve the same advantages as any other Wiltshire town, and yet we lose services while others gain…it seems clear that Wiltshire Council will carry on giving property developers more and more concessions, while the people of Westbury have to accept declining standards of services. When will Wiltshire Council offer to help renovate the town centre, library and market square and breathe life into our town?” wrote P Birnstingl of Dilton Marsh.

Ms Stroud from the Mews said Wiltshire Council “are trying to completely ruin the town of Westbury.  If you think I’m over-reacting look at the evidence – the council have refused to look into the problems at Westbury library, they have sold our hospital and it now stands as an empty shell, more and more heavy lorries are clogging up Westbury roads and far too many cars  cause traffic jams all hours of the day,  the health clinic can’t cope – need I go on?! “

And Westbury town councillor Mike Sutton, commented, “The person who wrote in the last edition bemoaning the fact that Westbury gets a poor deal from Wiltshire Council speaks for many of us I suspect.  Building has taken place in the town without the necessary infrastructure to service that increase and planners and Wiltshire have sat back and allowed it to happen, despite the local council making numerous objections…When Wiltshire Council was set up to replace the then district councils it was on the promise that they would provide services more efficiently and better than before, but this has not been the case. Westbury has had to fund public toilets, children’s play areas etc out of the local precept and it would be more just if Wiltshire transferred some of the money spent on these services to Westbury.”

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