Wiltshire Publications

CAMPUS CLASH CONTINUES Senior councillor ‘surprised and concerned’ by reaction

WESTBURY’S campus row stepped up a notch last week when Wiltshire Council’s second-in-command spoke out in defence of the programme and said he was surprised that people felt cheated after learning  plans for new sports facilities had been shelved.

Councillor John Thomson, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for health and wellbeing centres, wrote to White Horse News disputing claims that the council had gone back on a promise.

His comments follow on from cllr Jerry Wickham’s letter last month, which provoked a retaliation from two members of the town’s campus working group. Volunteers Brenda Pyne and Bill Jarvis said the group had been kept in the dark about money and were told to come up with an ideal plan for the town.

Cllr Thomson wrote, “I was both surprised and concerned to read the recent coverage relating to volunteers feeling cheated out of a campus in Westbury.

“My surprise is that we have stated openly and on several occasions that no funding has been allocated or approved for the provision of a campus in Westbury. My concern is that the former working group met me and I clearly updated and explained that the council had approved £80m for the provision of seven health and wellbeing centres (formerly campuses) across the county, and that these would be based in Corsham, Cricklade, Calne, Melksham, Pewsey, Salisbury and Tisbury.

“I also explained that any further funding to deliver more health and wellbeing centres, in towns such as Westbury, would need to be aligned to future growth and development and contributions from developers, as set out in the Core Strategy.”

The dispute began when White Horse News revealed in March this year that proposals to upgrade Westbury’s swimming pool and sports centre had been scrapped.

Wiltshire Council has maintained that nothing was ever promised, but a town councillor and two volunteers told in earlier issues how they were encouraged to keep moving forward with the plans.

Volunteer Bill Jarvis said, “We were guided by a council officer to develop the ideal solution for Westbury and were told repeatedly that we should go for what the town really wanted. We challenged the statement many times but were told not to worry about what the costs might be.”

Over 1,000 people responded to consultations in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and a working proposal for a three-site campus was released by Wiltshire Council in 2014. The proposal, which described Leighton Recreation Centre as ‘woefully inadequate’, has since been moved from its website, but a summary remains online at www.whitehorsenews.co.uk under ‘campus working proposal.’

The council has now said it will look into providing an upgraded community ‘hub’ at the library.

Cllr Thomson continued, “On a recent visit to Westbury, I met with the area board chair [town cllr Gordon King] to look at [the current facilities] and future requirements for the town. I was extremely impressed with all the facilities, but also 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, and that the community should be able to access the building out of the current library opening hours. 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.

“I hope your readers will find these facts both helpful and reassuring and that the volunteers will realise they have not been cheated. “

Cllr Thomson’s full letter can be read in here.