WESTBURY’S leaders have reacted angrily to Wiltshire Council’s plans to help struggling town centres – which only apply if you live in Chippenham, Trowbridge or Salisbury!
A Wiltshire Council cabinet meeting held earlier this month was billed as their ‘time to listen’. But their plans to help struggling town centres involves knocking 10p an hour off car parking charges in Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury alone – and absolutely nothing for Westbury or any of the other smaller market towns in the county. Amazingly, the council say their plans will “reinvigorate the economies of our communities” but they have already been widely condemned.
Mayor of Westbury, cllr David Windess said, “Well yet again, the so-called people who run Wiltshire Council have shown that they have absolutely no regard for what the town and parish councils are telling them, as well as the people that they are “supposed” to be representing. When are they going to start thinking about the local traders and residents of the smaller market towns? Or is it a case of ‘we get a big wage, we can afford it’, or as Wiltshire councillors get a free parking permit to park in any car park free, they just don’t care?
“Come on Wiltshire Council, it’s about time you woke up and lived in the real world and think of the people who live in these smaller towns.”
David Jenkins, president of Westbury Chamber of Commerce and Wiltshire councillor for Westbury North asked Wiltshire Council to consider that, “Westbury, with its fragile economy and geographical location, (being surrounded by towns such as Trowbridge, Frome, and Warminster), the local economy is being affected, to the extent it cannot afford to sustain this level of drop of business.”
He also asked Wiltshire Council to change Westbury’s designated ‘banding’ for car parking charges, arguing “the local council would manage the car park for the community, which in my view would be a better way of doing things.”
However, he says his suggestions went unheeded. “When it came to the decisions that were being made it was a question of ‘this is our policy, this is what we’re going to do,” he said.
Wiltshire councillor, John Hubbard, also put forward an amendment at the meeting for half an hour free parking in ‘band three’ market towns, which includes Westbury, but this was rejected.
“It is scandalous that Wiltshire Council has ignored the pleas,” said councillor Hubbard. “They have ignored the needs and wants of the local community.”
In a press release issued straight after the meeting, the council said, “Wiltshire Council will take action to help local businesses and encourage more visitors to Wiltshire’s shopping centres.
“The recommendations put forward at today’s Full Council meeting (November 8) include reducing the price of season parking tickets and reducing the one hour charge in Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury (excluding the Market Place car park in Salisbury) by 10 pence.”
The council also agreed a marketing plan to promote season tickets and off-street residents’ permits.
Westbury traders have been angry since Wiltshire Council scrapped free parking in April, blaming the action on loss of trade and on businesses moving away. These views have been echoed by traders in other towns.
They hoped that the council would take note of their anger and help struggling businesses, but their hopes are now dashed and they say small market towns have been ‘kicked in the teeth’.
Explaining the council’s decision, Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott said: “We recognise that the council must do something to reinvigorate the economies of our communities and I hope the changes we have agreed to implement today will go some way towards doing this.
“The whole country is facing the challenges of the continuing global financial crisis and we want to do all we can to help Wiltshire’s communities so shoppers and tourists are encouraged to visit our vibrant shopping centres. We have listened to local residents and businesses and I hope we can now move forward and promote everything our excellent shopping centres have to offer.”
No review before 2014
The anger locally has been exacerbated by Wiltshire Council’s decision not to review car parking charges again before 2014.
During the council meeting, LibDem councillor John Hubbard condemned the Conservative-controlled council for their car parking policy.
“We all know that there is no such thing as free parking,” he said. “But we also know that empty shops provide no jobs, no revenue and a shrinking local economy.”
Wiltshire Council’s plans
Full council have agreed to the following:
• That there is to be no increase to on or off-street car parking charges until 2014 at the earliest
• 20% reduction in standard car parking season tickets and off-street residents’ permits
• One hour charge in Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury (except the Market Place) to be reduced by 10p
• Marketing plan to promote season tickets and off-street residents’ permits
“A more consistent policy”
Last year, when Wiltshire Council approved their car parking strategy which included the removal of free parking, they championed the creation of “a more consistent car parking policy”. But Westbury town councillors have always argued that Westbury is being treated unfairly, being placed in band 3 of the parking charges along with more affluent market towns, and now while Chippenham, Trowbridge, and Salisbury may have assistance there are no concessions planned for shoppers in Westbury or any of the other smaller market towns in the county.
David Jenkins, president of the Westbury Chamber of Commerce and Wiltshire councillor for Westbury North says that from a straw poll he has conducted in his division, 78% of his respondents said they didn’t like the increase in car parking charges while 38% said they would be looking to take their custom elsewhere.