The big sell-off

COMMUNITIES in Devizes and Urchfont are shocked at Wiltshire Council’s plans to close and sell the Browfort council offices and Urchfont Manor College.

Wiltshire Council broke the news to staff at both centres on Thursday.

No redundancies will result from the moves and the council said it was confident that staff can be deployed elsewhere when the centres close in September.

While Browfort, the former headquarters of Kennet District Council, could be redeveloped as sheltered accommodation for older people, the future of historic Urchfont Manor is causing concern.

Nicky Mitchell, chairman of Urchfont Parish Council, said: “The parish council is deeply disappointed to learn of proposals by Wiltshire Council to sell Urchfont Manor. For many years it has been regarded as one of the jewels in the crown for Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire County Council.”

As well as attracting people from all over the country to courses in everything from lace making to creative writing, the manor is a valuable local resource. Children at Urchfont Primary School had their Christmas dinner in the stable block there after problems with the water supply closed the school.

Nigel Partridge, a member of the village croquet club which uses the lawn outside the college, said: “It is going to be such a loss to the community. I can’t understand why they are closing the college. It is very popular.”

John Elliott, landlord of the Lamb Inn in the village, said: “We get some business from the college but the pub is in no danger of closing.

“The biggest concern is the cricket pitch, which is one of the best in Wiltshire. It is part of the manor estate, and I don’t know what would happen if we lost that.”

The closure of Browfort will be compensated by what the council has called a “town centre customer access facility” at premises which have not been named but are in the process of being negotiated.

This will include a register office, and the council is in negotiation with the town council over holding weddings in the town hall.

Coun Paula Winchcombe, a former chairman of Kennet District Council, said she was concerned at the lack of detail in the plans. She said: “Whilst recognising Wiltshire Council’s need to make further financial savings, the planned proposals to close offices in Wiltshire including Browfort, Devizes, appear to lack detail. Where will such a replacement be located and what visitor parking arrangements are planned if there is a “hub” in Devizes town centre.

“And will such a facility cause further disruption in an already congested town centre?”

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