WESTBURY is hoping it will be in line for funds from central government to regenerate the town, but there is disagreement between local MPs about how to push the case for Westbury.
And it has left Westbury councillors concerned that the town could miss out on much-needed support and funding.
The country’s levelling up fund was announced in the Queen’s Speech as a push to level up opportunities across all parts of the UK. Its aim is to allow people and communities who feel they have been left behind to get a chance to catch up. The fund is designed to improve local infrastructure, develop town centres and help local businesses.
In Melksham, MP Michelle Donelan has said she is spearheading a campaign to bid for funding for the town. She has launched an online survey for both residents and businesses, to find out where funding should be spent.
However, her fellow Conservative MP, Andrew Murrison, who represents South West Wiltshire including Westbury, says that the allocation of funding will not be down to MPs making a stand, but the decision lies with Wiltshire Council.
He said, “Where [that] fund will be spent will be decided by Wiltshire Council and the MPs decided at a meeting that we would make sure we had a unified bid, that we speak with one voice. Hopefully we will get a bid for the area that will be acceptable.
“Michelle Donelan would have to do her bid through Wiltshire Council. Each one of us has an interest in our area – Wiltshire Council will have to make the judgement.”
He added, “To be successful in getting money from the national Levelling Up programme, given the June 18th deadline, the single bid going in from Wiltshire Council to government next month needs to be ‘oven ready’ and based around objective measures of need, particularly indices of multiple deprivation. Otherwise it will fail.
“Discussion with Wiltshire Council on this is ongoing.”
Will Westbury miss out?
Trowbridge has recently been told that the town will benefit from more than £16million from the Future High Streets Fund, after a review of local proposals. And that has brought concerns from Westbury councillors that Westbury could miss out.
New Westbury mayor, cllr Shelia Kimmins said, “We have many problems: parts of Westbury fall within the most deprived areas of the county. We have all the traffic and noise problems of the Bath Clean Air Zone and closure of Putney Bridge and our air quality is appalling.
“We desperately need a bypass – Chippenham and Melksham have had several extensions and Westbury seems to be the poor relation.”
New deputy mayor, cllr Ward Jones, said, “It would be good to think there were those with influence at a national and county level who occasionally thought ‘What about Westbury?’ when resources were available. It seems we continue to be the forgotten enclave of Wiltshire.
“What price our campus? Our by-pass? Money for regeneration? Or anything?”
Westbury Town cllr Jane Russ said, “We have produced a ‘Vision for Westbury’ document which is taking an aspirational look at the town. It is often typical of Wiltshire to completely ignore the existence of Westbury as a place that could do with some ‘Levelling Up’. We have had other issues in our cross hairs for the town; the incinerator, volume of traffic, air quality, a relief road. Perhaps this is why we keep getting ignored, there are too many issues that would make a difference to the quality of life of people in Westbury.”
Westbury Town and Wiltshire cllr Gordon King said, “Retail shops closed, a plethora of estate agencies and charity shops, others retail struggling, a community drowning in heavy traffic, above average rate of unemployment – worklessness; and child poverty, no community in Wiltshire is more deserving of levelling up or inward investment than Westbury.”
Following news of the allocation of over £16million for Trowbridge, Andrew Murrison said, “As we emerge from the restrictions and high streets open up again, this large sum of money will make a huge difference to the look and feel of Wiltshire’s county town centre. This is really great news and timing could not be better!”
In reply, cllr Gordon King said, “Whilst, like Andrew I am pleased for other communities, I would, nevertheless (figuratively) encourage him to take off and clean his spectacles now and again, consider the facts and get full square behind Westbury. On this occasion he has clearly missed the train. Westbury is the only town with a clear plan for recovery“
Mayor of Melksham, cllr Jon Hubbard confirmed the view that a decision on funding would be made by Wiltshire Council and not individual lobbyists. He said, “I’m a little concerned that myself and the town council have been receiving briefing notes from Wiltshire Council asking us not to talk about the project – and then we have Michelle Donelan issuing press releases saying that it’s all about her.