At this evening’s Zoom meeting of the Full Town Council (Monday 29 June), Councillors voted overwhelmingly to dispense with all free parking bays on both sides of the High Street as a measure to enable the safe re-opening of the High Street.
This decision was criticised immediately by Wiltshire Councillor Stewart Dobson in a letter to marlborough.news, where he stressed the importance of the 30 minute free parking spaces on either side of the High Street to residents and traders other than cafes and restaurants, whilst also making the point that once free parking had gone, there was no guarantee that it could ever come back.
The Council is eligible to apply for European funding under the ‘Re-opening of the High Street Safely Scheme’ administered by Wiltshire Council. The aim of which is to ensure the safety of shoppers and pedestrians as the lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Meetings have been held with representatives of the High Street traders, their views being taken into consideration when deciding what to do and how.
Three issues were discussed: pavement widening – where this should be implemented along the High Street; what measures should be put in place to help ease the loss of free car parking spaces; and what additional funding should be requested under the scheme (for hand sanitizer stations, signage etc).
The key decision concerned the extent of the pavement widening. Councillors voted by majority to widen pavements along the entire length of the High Street (subject to an amendment to exclude Bus Stops, Taxi Ranks and disabled spaces, thus leaving those spaces untouched).
Cllr Don Heath proposed: “that the pavements are widened all the way along the High Street so that we get a free flow of people and this will enable them to walk past the shops where there are queues, otherwise I can see we’re going to get pinch points where there is just not enough space for people waiting outside the shop”.
Regarding how to offset the loss of the free parking in the High Street, Councillors discussed a ‘first free hour’ scheme (adopted by other towns) but rejected this on cost grounds as even for a two month trial period in the George Lane car park alone the Council would have to pay Wiltshire Council (who take all the parking income) more than £13,000.
Another option was use of ‘Free Parking’ days, there is already an allocation where Wiltshire allow the Council a number of days across the year when parking in some or all car parks can be free.
Cllr Andy Wilson suggested a parking fee redemption scheme, where the cost of a one hour parking ticket could be redeemed against goods purchased from a participating retailer.
Cllr Alexander Kirk Wilson stressed the need for any eventual scheme to be simple in in structure and operation, and run consistently over a long period.
Eventually Councillors voted to use the allocation of Free Parking Days and explore further the possibility of creating a parking fee redemption scheme, although this would take some time to set up.
Regarding application for additional funding from the scheme, Councillors voted to create hand sanitizer stations in key locations along the High street, and also to add ‘Open for Business’ signs to the gateway signs on the main roads leading into Marlborough.