WESTBURY is to lose the two hours of free parking in its town centre car parks; instead, from April there will be just one hour of free parking.
And it was an angry town council which reluctantly agreed to the changes during a heated meeting on Monday night.
Westbury town councillors say they were forced into the move by an “extortionate increase in charges” by the new Wiltshire Council.
Westbury Town Council currently pays £8,300 a year to Wiltshire Council as a subsidy towards the two hours’ free parking in the High Street and Warminster Road car parks. But Wiltshire Council wanted ten times that amount – £80,000 – to maintain this.
Instead Westbury Town Council is to pay £31,000 for one hour’s free parking – over £22,000 more than the existing deal.
Wiltshire Council say it is not prepared to continue to subsidise two hours of free parking in the town – a deal which is unique to Westbury and Warminster in the whole of Wiltshire – saying it is unfair to other taxpayers in the county. But Westbury town councillors reacted with anger to the news which they say was sprung on them at the last minute.
At the Westbury Town Council meeting on Monday this week, Cllr Mike Hawkins said, “This is a disgusting act by a unitary authority. They’ve set their budget so why leave it to now, knowing our budget had to be set by early January, to drop it on us? The whole thing stinks.”
Town centre viability
Cllr Russell Hawker, who also sits on Wiltshire Council, said that the news had come directly from Wiltshire Council’s cabinet and that there had been no forewarning.
He added, “For more than a decade Westbury Town Council has been extremely concerned with preserving the viability of trade in the town centre. Now we have an even more fragile system and we need to protect what we’ve got.”
Wiltshire Councillor David Jenkins, who is also the president of Westbury Chamber of Commerce, spoke to encourage the town council to pay for one hour’s free parking. He said, “The economy is pretty fragile and certain members of the chamber won’t be happy if we started to push parking charges on to shoppers. I like to think that the [town] council could do everything possible to create one hour’s free car parking. I think it’s common sense.”
Town councillors discussed the various options that were open to them. Paying the £80,000 demanded by Wiltshire Council was considered completely unrealistic. And the councillors resolved to reluctantly pay £30,800 – an additional £22,500 over the existing deal – to preserve one hour of free parking. This money will be made up of the budgeted £8,300, £15,000 from town council reserves, and the remainder will be requested as a grant from Westbury Area Board.
Under the new plans, anyone wishing to stay for longer than the free hour will have to pay £1 to park for a maximum of two hours.
The town council passed a unanimous resolution to raise the contribution to Wiltshire Council to £30,800. In addition a second resolution was passed criticising Wiltshire Council for an “extortionate increase in charges”, adding that the town council abhorred the timing of the news, the manner in which Wiltshire Council had handled the affair and the lack of consultation with the town council.
Wiltshire Councillor Dick Tonge, cabinet member for highways and transport, told White Horse News last week, “We have been looking at all of the car parking in Wiltshire. Under a previous deal, Westbury Town Council were paying £10,000 towards the free parking.
“The cost of the car parks in Westbury is £80,000 a year, so Wiltshire Council is essentially operating them at a loss of £70,000.
“Other taxpayers in Wiltshire are paying to subsidise the car parking. In essence it is unreasonable to expect people in Salisbury or elsewhere to pay for free parking in Westbury.
“It’s up to the Westbury Town Council to decide what they want to do. The decision rests with the town council, but we have real costs.”
Wiltshire Council told Westbury Town Council it would have to decide how much it would subsidise the cost of any free parking in Westbury, otherwise a charge of 40p for one hour and £1 for two hours would be introduced.
And to maintain the current two hours’ free parking would cost Westbury Town Council almost ten times what they currently pay Wiltshire Council, a figure of £80,000.
Car parking charges in 2011-2012 may well change again as a review of all the car parking charging in the county is being conducted.
Cllr Tonge said that Wiltshire Council wanted to start operating car parks at a profit, ploughing the proceeds into better public transport.
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