A public meeting held in Devizes Corn Exchange last week has revealed that the town’s population is growing but there has not been a corresponding improvement in infrastructure.
Wiltshire Council had organised the What Matters to You evening to find out residents’ priorities as the town develops in the future as part of the county’s joint strategic assessment.
The audience received a copy of an executive summary of the assessment for the Devizes community area, which showed, at the time of the last census in 2011, it had a population of 32,090, more than 16 per cent up on the 2001 census, the fourth highest rise of all of Wiltshire’s community areas.
And not all of the population are adequately housed. There are 1,736 households on the housing register looking to be rehomed in rented accommodation, an increase of 367 in the past two years.
But some 280 affordable homes were completed in the area between 2010 and 2013, one of the highest numbers of any rural community.
There were 354 households affected by the Government’s ‘bedroom tax’, losing housing benefit because of unoccupied bedrooms in their homes.
The area has a higher percentage of working age people claiming benefits than the county average, although, with 48 per cent of people saying they participate in unpaid voluntary work each week, it is one of the most friendly and helpful areas in the county.
It is not the healthiest population in the county by a long chalk.
Female life expectancy is 1.4 years lower than in the rest of the county, rates of skin cancer are higher than the national average and, in the health deprivation and disability ranking, which measures premature death and impairment of quality of life by poor health, the Devizes area is the fourth worst in the county.
The number of children living in poverty in the Devizes community area has risen from 777 in 2008 to 887 in 2011, making it the fifth highest in Wiltshire.
Those attending were coralled into groups discussing particular topics, such as health, transport, community safety and children and young people.
Each group set a number of priorities, which were then voted on electronically by everyone in the Ceres Hall at the Corn Exchange.
Under the heading of health and well-being, one option scored particularly high with 76.7 per cent of the room agreeing: “Access to medical services is a big issue: the area is disadvantaged because of its remote location and this is compounded if you are disadvantaged or elderly.”