At a ‘packed’ Zoom meeting of the full Town Council earlier this evening (Monday 20 July) Councillors heard a series of robust and impassioned pleas from traders and members of the public regarding the proposals to do away with many (all?) of the free parking spaces in the High Street.
Councillors tonight were asked to ‘note’ a scheme drawn up by Wiltshire Council highway engineers (see ‘Safe Re-opening of The High Street’ – Wiltshire Council’s latest free parking reduction proposal), which, as Mayor Cllr Mark Cooper explained could be open to some changes following feedback. He made clear that the final decision regarding what to do about the free parking spaces in the High Street lay with Wiltshire Council and that it would be administered by Wiltshire Council. He also stressed that “it is a national scheme, a temporary measure, and can be changed at any time”.
The traders’ concerns focused on the lack of consultation, the effect that the Town Council’s decision to support a removal of all free spaces on the High Street would have on the Town as a whole, and that whilst safety was paramount regarding every decision they make, this proposal in its current form wasn’t the answer.
“Frankly horrified”…”And also very surprised in what is meant to be a democracy that we weren’t consulted” stated Susie Watson of Susie Watson Designs. “It is a disastrous move, it would be lovely if everybody came shopping on their bicycles, but that isn’t what happens” she added.
Debbie Lorrain of ‘Dress’, adjacent to the Town Hall in Kingsbury Street complained about the lack of consultation as she had received no contact at all. She pointed out that the title of the scheme was ‘misnamed’ as “we should be looking at the real role of our town and not just the High Street”. She added that “the main concern of this scheme should be the safety of our residents and shoppers when they return to us”. She questioned the logic in making pedestrians walk ‘along the busy A4’, and asked why the area of lower Kingsbury Street wasn’t included in any scheme as the only queues that were forming anywhere on or adjacent to the High Street were outside the very successful Bike Shop on the corner of Kingsbury Street, where the pavement was already extremely narrow.
“We need a feelgood aggressive marketing campaign to promote Marlborough and get our town’s economy going again” Debbie added.
Elaine Ferry of Elaine’s Travel echoed the lack of consultation. She also questioned the safety aspect of the proposals, particularly the instances of rolling cars’, where cars unsecured in the central parking area of the High Street roll gently across the lower section of the High Street and crash into cars parked alongside the pavement. If parking was removed and the area turned into a pedestrian/leisure area, then cars could either roll into people seated outside cafes, or across the pavements into the front of shops.
This happens on a regular basis but at present, parked cars act as a ‘safety shield’ for pedestrians and shops.
“We’ve got to look after and protect our businesses on the High Street…Let’s get this High Street moving again” she added.
“How will this scheme be measured?” asked Pete Davies of Marlborough Photo Services. “We are told that it is a temporary scheme and that we can change things quickly”, adding “Nothing that Wiltshire or Marlborough Council do is react quickly. It is already July 20, our shops have been open since 15 June”. He asked also “Who will be doing the measuring? And what will determine its success or failure?”
Not all members of the public who spoke were against getting rid of the cars from the High Street. Mother of three Tina Harrigan-James, who moved to Marlborough only couple years ago made clear that safety was paramount, and that “what causes the danger is the car, and removing the car from the High Street in terms of a long term strategy, thinking about the environment and climate change is hugely important”.
Wiltshire Councillor Stewart Dobson expressed his disappointment that Town Councillors “totally ignored the recommendations from a working group”, where some traders did meet with a Wiltshire Council Highways representative to discuss possible options, but then Councillors voted to do away with all free parking. He urged the Town Council “not just to note this plan, but take into account all the comments heard tonight”.
Wiltshire Councillor Jane Davies emphasised the need to ‘have the in-depth conversation’ about this scheme with Wiltshire Council before implementation, as Mayor Mark Cooper had stressed that the final decision lay with Wiltshire Council and that the scheme was ‘only temporary’ and could be changed if it didn’t work. She explained that Wiltshire Council officers “rely on you to come to them with your ideas” and “that would be very beneficial to everyone if that could happen”.
She asked that rather than just ‘note’ this could the Town Council put forward a proposal that could then be discussed and debated with the Council so that a safer and more effective way forward could emerge, “a solution that is right for us”.
The ‘open’ session then concluded and Councillors discussed what had been said, but no-one put forward a proposal to revoke the decision made at the previous meeting to remove all free parking spaces along the High Street.
All expressed sympathy with the concerns of the traders and how pressure would be applied on Wiltshire Council to come up with a viable scheme.
Mayor Mark Cooper repeatedly made the point that it was a temporary scheme, it could be changed at short notice, and that the aim was to create a safe environment for everyone in the central area of the town.
The Wiltshire Council proposal was ‘noted’, and Councillors agreed to make sure that all comments made by traders and residents would be fed back to Wiltshire Council