Council leaders have agreed to proposals which will mean Christmas shoppers pay less, charities will get help for key workers supporting vulnerable people and some Blue Badge holders will get a better deal.
Cabinet member with responsibility for parking, Dick Tonge announced the following recommendations when cabinet met on October 18th:
*An extra free hour for motorists when they pay for their car parking in car parks across the county from December 19 to Christmas Eve. Details and a token will be given in the council's next edition of Your Wiltshire magazine due out in November.
*Service permits will be extended to include registered charities that need to load and unload vehicles, and peripatetic workers who deal with vulnerable people.
*Consistent arrangements will be made for Blue Badge holders which will mean a better deal for many.
The recommendations came after the council heard evidence from a report regarding the impact of parking charge changes.
The report looked at various factors including the national and local economy, retail trends, the relationship between parking and market towns, and evidence from other local authorities.
It also highlighted the mixed results other authorities have had when reducing their charges and that many other factors have impacted on the UK's high street, and indicated that there are signs that some of Wiltshire's towns are bucking the national trend.
The report was intended to make as much evidence available as possible so an informed debate can take place at full council on November 8.
Dick Tonge said: "All residents in Wiltshire will receive this one free hour car parking voucher when their Your Wiltshire magazine drops through their door in November which will no doubt be a welcome boost for shoppers and traders in the run up to Christmas.
"The service permits will make life easier for particular staff looking after vulnerable people working in charity shops and for those vehicles loading and unloading goods outside their premises. The changes to blue badge holders will also make them easier to use."
The full report to 'cabinet' is contained within the agenda at http://cms.wiltshire.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=5651&T=10
What it says in summary is that the quality of a town centre determines whether or not people shop there, not the cost of parking. In response to the impact on the budget, which saw profits from parking come in at half a million pounds below initial estimates, WC says ticket sales were declining anyway because of the economic situation. In response to claims that people are driving out of Wiltshire to use other towns they say that other councils are also considering putting up charges. They blame the incompetence of central government for driving down disposable incomes. They say some of Wiltshire's towns are doing well despite Wiltshire Council, and the high charges are necessary to make money and to discourage motoring in high-pollution areas.
Here's a press release from Wiltshire Liberal Democrats:
Following the announcements at Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Liberal Democrats have welcomed the new parking concessions from the Conservative controlled council, following the massive hike in parking charges earlier in the year.
The latest u-turns will see a free hour's parking during Christmas week, an extension of the £50 'service permit' scheme and standardisation of the blue badge scheme across Wiltshire.
However, the Conservative administration have given no clues as to how they intend to deal with the collapse in trade in Wiltshire's town centres following the increase in parking fees earlier this year, instead issuing a report claiming that it is all a result of the economic downturn and traders not adapting to the situation.
Jon Hubbard (Lib Dem Council Group Leader and Cllr for Melksham South) said "This shows just how out of touch the Conservatives in Wiltshire are. They are ignoring all of the evidence and blaming anyone except themselves.
"We all recognise that the economic situation nationally is having an impact on the amount of money people are spending, and that is why our local council should be doing everything in its power to support our retail industry, and not put its efforts into banging the final few nails in the coffins that were our High Streets.
"Even the Conservative Cabinet Member for Finance John Brady described the situation as a 'fiasco' during Tuesday's cabinet meeting. Now is the time to support our traders and help keeps these shops, and the jobs they bring, in Wiltshire's towns."
Brian Dalton (Lib Dem Deputy Group Leader and Cllr for Salisbury Harnham) said "The Conservatives have not just ignored the reality of what's going on in our market towns. They've chosen to shift the blame squarely onto the shoulders of local traders. The reality is the economic downturn across the country has been compounded by these senseless car-parking hikes, which have seen income fall for the Council as well as for town centre shops."