WILTSHIRE COUNCIL has approved its car parking policy, meaning Westbury will see car parking charges for all lengths of stay, which will be introduced in April this year.
Free one hour parking will be scrapped, and drivers will be expected to pay 40p for an hour, £1.20 for 2 hours or £2.10 for up to 3 hours in the town’s short stay spaces.
Long stay charges will be £2.40 for 4 hours, £3.20 for 5 hours, or £5.60 for all day.
Wiltshire council leaders approved the plans in December, following the proposals made in their local transport plan consultation. Stephen Andrews, chair of the town council’s car parks working group, said the news came as no surprise. “It’s what we were expecting, but not what we were hoping for,” he said.
Wiltshire council leaders say that surplus car parking revenue will allow them to continue to financially support buses in the county. However, cllr Andrews said, “I just find Westbury tends to end up with the short end of the stick. I know the park and ride in Salisbury was made free for the Saturdays before Christmas, well, they do that for a city like Salisbury, the major economic centre for the county – at the same time they’re going to sting us for charges this year. One of the things our car parks’ money seems to subsidize is park and ride in Salisbury. We lose out.”
Westbury loses out in banding system
Wiltshire Council say the new charges will still ensure that Wiltshire is “competitively priced” compared to neighbouring authorities, and describe their proposals as “a more consistent car parking policy” for the whole county. However, Westbury town councillors believe Westbury is being treated unfairly in the banding system. The town has been placed in band 3 along with other market towns, whereas councillors believe the limited economic strength of the town centre means it should have been placed in band 4, which would result in lower charges. Also in band 3, along with Westbury, Warminster and Melksham are Devizes, Malmesbury and Marlborough.
The point was made in the town council’s response to the car parking consultation. Cllr Andrews commented, “We’d asked for them to look at placing us in band 4 as we’ve got quite a weak economic centre, to give us the chance of paying lower charges. However, they’ve obviously not listened to us and it does make you wonder if there’s any point in answering these consultations.
“It’s a huge disappointment. All we can do is ask them what their rational is for refusing our request, at least that will have to get them thinking about it.”
Buy back option refused
The new strategy offered market towns the chance to buy back a proportion of their short stay spaces in order to offer some free parking. However, Westbury Town Council refused what they describe as a “ridiculous” offer from Wiltshire Council to pay £500 per space per annum – a figure that would equate to £61,000 in comparison to the current figure of £16,600. Westbury town councillors have accused Wiltshire Council of making an unrealistic offer to force them into accepting the proposed charges.
Other towns in Wiltshire have slammed the changes in car parking charges and have also not agreed to take up Wiltshire Council’s offer to pay to keep some free spaces.
New car parking policy
Wiltshire Cabinet members approved the new car parking strategy for 2011-2026, which covers parking policies, parking charges, residents’ parking zones, season tickets and parking standards, following public consultation.
Cabinet member for highways and transport, Dick Tonge said, “We carried out a very extensive review of car parking in the county. It was essential we did this. Following the move to one council, it was clear that car parking policies, charges and management were very different across the county.
“Our new strategy ensures a more consistent approach which still reflects the differences between Salisbury, our large towns, market towns and smaller communities.
Cllr Tonge added, “It will also help us to remain competitive and support our local economy while encouraging more people to use alternative methods of transport. It’s a fine balancing act and we are confident that this strategy will achieve that aim.”
However, traders in Westbury have already expressed deep concern for the vibrancy of the town centre since free parking in the High Street and Warminster Road car parks was reduced from two hours to one hour in July, sentiments Westbury Town Council voiced in their response to Wiltshire Council’s car parking consultation.
Concern over decision making process
Wiltshire Council reached a decision to continue with their proposed car parking strategy, despite councillors efforts to urge a re-think of increased parking charges.
Concerns over Wiltshire Council’s car parking strategy, outlined for April 2011, led to councillors ‘calling in’ the decision.
In a first for the new Wiltshire Council, the Liberal Democrats on the environment select committee with the support of the Devizes Guardian member, made use of the little used call-in mechanism, designed to force the cabinet to reconsider the decision. These councillors came from Cricklade, Trowbridge Paxcroft, Bradford on Avon and Devizes Guardian.
At the meeting in County Hall however, the seven conservative members of the committee voted en-bloc to say that they were happy with the decision made that no further discussion was needed before the policy was implemented.
Speaking after the meeting, leader of the Lib Dem group Jon Hubbard commented, “This is a dark day for democracy in Wiltshire. We have today witnessed the very worst example of the party line taking precedence over what is right and what is best for Wiltshire.
“Let us be very clear about what happened today. Today we did not seek to cancel the administration’s policy; we did not seek to even change the administration’s policy. Instead we asked that before adopting a 15 year strategy that not only scrapped free car parking in our market towns and doubled parking charges in some communities, but also impacted directly on our subsidised busses and many other transport issues, we asked that the council’s scrutiny committee should have the opportunity to carefully and constructively consider the policy and make any recommendations they see fit, in accordance with the council’s principles of decision making.
“Instead we saw the administration brush off legitimate concerns and worries about the decision making process in County Hall and claim that the woefully inadequate consultation that took place at some area board meetings was more than enough consultation.
“It is a sad indictment of this council that we are going to have these changes forced through without backbench members having the proper opportunity to participate in the debate.”