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WC 'cabinet' - handbrake turn on parking

July 26, 2011 9:51 AM
By Trevor Carbin

Wiltshire Council's cabinet remains in a state of panic over the devastating affects of their punitive car parking charges on the economy of our market towns. A 'Redemption Scheme' produced a few days ago was revised on the hoof at this morning's cabinet meeting as opposition councillors and representatives of the business community pointed out that it was unlikely to work in the form proposed.

Council leader Jane Scott admitted that her original proposal was wrong. "I'd like to spend some time talking to the towns to see if it's wanted or not," she said.

A consortium of Salisbury City Centre Management Ltd, the city's Federation of Small Businesses and the Salisbury & District Chamber of Commerce and Industry has produced a report setting out what is going wrong and their ideas on curing the problem. They point out that Salisbury is severely disadvantaged in comparison with towns such as Southampton and Bournemouth and is losing trade as a consequence. Amongst a number of detailed proposals they object to the two hour minimum stay and suggest the re-introduction of a one-hour rate.

In response the council produced figures showing the costs of the suggestions. Leader Jane Scott has agreed to meet businesses in Salisbury to discuss the proposed changes. "We will meet in Salisbury and come to an agreed design on what to do," she said. "There will be more detail by Friday." Mrs Scott also tried the old divide and rule tactic by alleging disagreements between retailers' organisations and the City Council, though Salisbury speakers denied any such conflict.

The Redemption Scheme was not seen as the answer to the problems caused by exhorbitant parking charges, though it was pointed out that some towns have devised successful ways of operating systems where traders repay parking charges to customers. The basis of the plan however is that retailers will give money to Wiltshire Council with the customer acting as intermediary, and not all retailers may wish to do that. It was agreed by the cabinet to consult on a more flexible scheme than that originally proposed, and it was clarified that different towns could choose what type of scheme, if any, to adopt.

Cabinet members persisted in blaming the economy for the drop in car park usage, without realising that when the town centre economy is weak the worst thing you can do is to double parking charges. The responsible cabinet member Dick tonge claimed that other towns outside Wiltshire have seen 10% falls in usage of car parks, ignoring the fact that Wiltshire's fall has been up to 50%. They also said the profits from car parks would subsidise buses, without realising that there are as yet no profits - the car park budget is forecast to be Β£500,000 in arrears.