WESTBURY Town Council is paying Wiltshire Council to provide free car parking, while other towns in Wiltshire get free car parking without having to pay a penny.
The White Horse News has discovered that while Westbury Town Council has been forced to fork out £30,000 this year to guarantee one hour of free parking in the High Street and Warminster Road car parks, towns such as Melksham, Bradford-on-Avon and Devizes don’t have to contribute to the cost of their free car park.
And bizarrely the reason for the discrepancy is that Westbury Town Council was generous enough to contribute to the cost of maintaining their car parks when other town councils refused to do so.
Under the district and county council system that preceded the unitary Wiltshire Council, each town negotiated their car parking provision. Westbury and Warminster opted to contribute some money towards the cost of their town car parks.
Other towns, such as Melksham, did not contribute anything, and now do not have to, even as Westbury is being asked to cover the entire cost of the car parks to preserve two hours of free car parking.
In Melksham’s Church Street car park there are 131 spaces that are free for one hour. Bradford on Avon has 83 free spaces for two hours over two car parks in the town while in the Market Place in Devizes also has dozens of free parking spaces.
Westbury had been paying £8,000 a year, but was told this would rise to £80,000 to preserve two hours parking. In the end the town council decided to pay £30,000 to provide one hour of free parking.
Wiltshire Council said this was to cover the cost of running the car parks. Wiltshire Council is currently undergoing a review of car parking in the county, with changes for all car parks expected next year.
Westbury Mayor, cllr Sue Ezra said, “I’m furious. If other towns can have parking for free then why can’t Westbury?
“We’re not asking for special treatment, we would have been quite happy to pay the £8,000 to keep things as they were. What we would have liked to see is Wiltshire Council keep things like they were until the whole of the county was standardised. We’ll be looking at that and I think we’ll be trying to get it reversed.”
Wiltshire councillor Dick Tonge, cabinet member for highways and transport, said that Westbury was being asked to pay as a relic of the previous agreement with West Wiltshire District Council.
He said, “Under the district council, Westbury and Warminster were the only towns that bought out the parking. Melksham has never contributed. We have inherited a difficult situation whereby the cost of parking is cheaper in some places and more expensive in others, and we are undergoing a consultation to rectify that.
“The reason that the contribution from Westbury has gone up is that the amount did not reflect the true cost of running the car parks.”
When asked why Wiltshire Council had changed the arrangements for Westbury this financial year, rather than wait for the car parking review, cllr Tonge said that the council couldn’t predict the outcome of the review.
Westbury town councillor Mike Hawkins reacted with disbelief. He said, “It’s hardly harmonisation is it? I would be very interested as to their explanation. It’s just unbelievable.
“It’s because we were the ones daft enough to pay last time. Part of their argument was that other people in Wiltshire shouldn’t be subsidising Westbury, but now it looks like we’re being asked to subsidise Melksham and Bradford on Avon. It beggars belief.
“I would urge Wiltshire Council to stop now, have a proper think about it, have a proper consultation and don’t change things until next financial year until they can come up with a scheme that is fair and consistent for the small market towns.”
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