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Conservatives stick their fingers in their ears over car park charges

November 10, 2011 4:54 PM

The Conservative report on car park charges places the blame squarely on market town traders and the national economy, and refuses to accept any influence from higher costs driving people away from our town centres. In November's Full Council meeting, Wiltshire Lib Dems challenged the Conservative whitewash, and demanded 30 minutes free parking in every (Band 3) market town, but the proposal was dismissed.

Lib Dem Cllr Howard Marshall (Calne Central) said, 'Many Wiltshire towns are in crisis. The Conservative councillors just want to retreat into their bunker and let their car park charges policy blunder on.'

'Lib dems have long said that one size fits all doesn't work. Wiltshire council needs to be responsive to local circumstances, and at the very least, let areas like Calne reduce their prices. Car parks in Calne has made the council just £600, at a cost of more than 4000 less tickets sold, and so 4000 less people visiting the town. When we see situations like this, the Conservatives mustn't be too scared to change course.'

Lib Dem Cllr Mark Packard (Chippenham Pewsham) added: "'The council needs to encourage people back into our town centres, with flexible charging, but also with other schemes to help businesses, like Chippenham's retail showcase late opening evening, 'Chippenham Alive'.'

Lib Dem Cllr Chris Caswill (Chippenham Monkton) commented 'I feel a little sorry for the Conservatives, sitting in County Hall, trying to dictate the charges in Devizes, in Calne, in Salisbury, when they should let the local community decide.'

Conservative Cllr Bridget Wayman (Nadder and East Knoyle) set the tone for the Conservative side of the debate, when she repeatedly said "It doesn't have anything to do with parking charges." Conservative Cllr Fred Westmoreland (Amesbury West) knew who the culprits were though: "Thanks to the activities of the [Salisbury] Journal, Spire FM, and every opposition councillor, Salisbury has been talked down."

Lib Dem Cllr Steve Oldrieve (Trowbridge Paxcroft) summed up the debate: 'It reminds me of the fairytale, the Emperor's New Clothes. The Conservatives have produced a quite elegant report, with plenty of gold thread from the statistics they've weaved through, but it does not offer a fig leaf of support to our town centres. The Conservatives are in denial. They must get out on the streets and talk to real people who can see the empty car parks and town centres.'

Wiltshire Liberal Democrat Group Leader Cllr Jon Hubbard delivering the following speech to Council in Salisbury on Tuesday 8th November

Mr Chairman

Today we have an opportunity to right a wrong.

Today we have an opportunity to send a powerful, positive message to the communities we represent to say we believe in our High Streets

Today we have the opportunity to make a real difference to the viability of the towns in Wiltshire.

And a real difference we can make.

So far the difference this council has made to our towns is falling numbers, falling income, falling services and falling confidence.

All this falling, it's fair to say that as a council we have been failing.

And we have.

We failed to understand that increasing car parking charges by up to 300% might mean that people stop using our car parks

We failed to realise that introducing new charges, where previously none existed, could prove to be a disincentive to using our car parks, especially during a recession.

We failed to provide proper support for the retailers who were going to be impacted by our dash for cash

Well, when I say we...

On this side of the chamber WE said that trying to exploit the motorist to pay for the failings of this council administration was a mistake

On this side of the chamber WE said that putting up charges by 300% in the middle of a recession was a mistake

On this side of the chamber WE said that there should be proper support for the retail community

I have heard it said on many occasions over the past months by members if the Conservative administration that the decision to increase parking charges was taken when times were good.

I have heard it said that "had we known then what we know now" we would not have introduced the higher charges - that we would have looked again.

Well let's deal with that.

FACT - the decision to increase parking charges was made by the Conservative Cabinet at it's meeting in December 2010.

FACT - the UK economy officially entered recession on 23rd January 2009, some 22 months prior to the Conservatives fateful decision in Wiltshire. How could they not have known we were in economic meltdown. They had just failed to win a General Election where the state of the economy was the biggest issue.

FACT - at the meeting in December 2010 so many people turned up to tell the Conservatives what a mistake they were making that the Cabinet meeting had to be moved from the scheduled committee room to the Council Chamber, just to fit everyone in.

FACT - at that meeting speaker after speaker pleaded with the Conservatives not to make the decision. Shopkeepers told of the negative impact it would have on them, representatives from the Chambers of Commerce from towns across the county spoke of the damage that would be done to our high streets and market towns.

FACT - so concerned was the opposition that the Conservatives were making a serious mistake that we used the little used procedural mechanism of calling in the decision. The response of the Conservative members of the council was that, rather than explore and debate the concerns being raised by us instead they would use their majority to refuse a debate and push ahead with the changes.

I remember saying then, what I have said several times since, that making decisions to punitively charge people for using our town centres will just drive people out of our town centres.

Well it would appear that I was right.

In Chippenham it drove 71,855 people out of the town's car parks. That works out at 200 people per day no longer using the high street in Chippenham.

200 people not spending money in our shops.

200 people not using the cafes, bars and restaurants.

200 people not contributing to the local economy.

But, the Conservatives will cry, but we got an increase in income from Chippenham's car parks.

Yes, there was an increase. An increase of just £300 per day.

So, put it into context, every additional £1.50 of income the council earned resulted in one less person shopping in Chippenham.

When it comes to the scores on the doors, Chippenham was left with a 15% drop in usage of it's car parks.

But, council, it would appear that Chippenham were the lucky ones.

You see, a 15% drop was not as bad as it could get.

No, in our smaller Market towns the impact was far worse.

Let's take Calne as an example.

In Calne the drop was 29%

29% - that's basically 1 in 3 people stopped visiting the town centre to do their shopping.

Or another way of looking at it.

In Calne the Conservatives scrapped the one hour free parking and replaced it with a 40p charge. They also increased all the other charges, some significantly.

Yet in spite of introducing new charges and hiking all the other prices the total amount of extra revenue raised amounted to just £1.75 per day.


Well I would like to think that we can all agree that it's not worth killing off a town centre for just £1.75.

However, we have not yet heard the worst of it.

So far, we have at least been looking at an increase in revenue.

So far, at least, we have seen the amount of money that the council earns increase.

But let's look at one final example.

Let's look at this beautiful City of Salisbury.

The biggest retail centre in Wiltshire.

One of the biggest tourist towns in the South West.

A city that attracts thousands upon thousands of tourist visitors every year.

Surely they couldn't get it wrong with all that going for them.

Well, you can't accuse them of not trying!

In just 6 months the crazy minimum 2 hour charge, together with the money grabbing increases drove almost 200,000 people away from shopping in Salisbury.

In just 6 months the Conservatives managed to reduce the number of people visiting the city and using our car parks by a chilling 20%.

In just 6 months the Conservatives managed to REDUCE the income from parking in Salisbury by almost £100,000.

In fact, it COST the people of Wiltshire 46 pence for every person who chose NOT to come to shop in the City.

It cost us, the plain stupidity of the actions of this Conservative administration cost us 46 pence for every visitor they drove away from the City.

You have to admit, that really is something special.

But we must be fair.

We have been told, several times now, that the Conservatives did not want to introduce the two hour minimum stay in Salisbury.

No, it wasn't them.

No, apparently it was the business community in Salisbury that were clamouring for this change.

Those representatives from Salisbury that attended the cabinet meeting in December last year who spoke against the proposals apparently weren't representative of the City's retail community.

No, they were impostors.

Apparently the business community had represented to the Conservative cabinet so strongly, so convincingly, so united that they managed to achieve what every other community in Wiltshire had failed to achieve. They got the ten top Conservatives in Wiltshire to change their minds and go against their instincts.


I think they think the people of Wiltshire were born yesterday.

You know, when I hear this explanation, wheeled out time after time to explain why it's the fault of Salisbury's business community and not the Conservative Cabinet that the 2 hour minimum was imposed I am reminded of a quote.

It was a quote from George Osborne, as he accused the then Labour government of failing to command the confidence of the people

He said "It's difficult to see how we'll get that confidence with a Prime Minister who blames everyone else for the mess we're in and refuses to acknowledge any mistakes."

He said that in January 2009 when the recession was announced. The recession that it seems that Conservatives in Wiltshire were unaware of until a few months ago.

So how do we move forward

Well firstly we need to take positive action now to restore the confidence of retailers in our High Streets.

Is this going to cost money? - yes.

Can we afford it? - Well I ask if we can afford not to.

We need to reduce the costs of parking in our Market towns urgently, reintroduce the 1 hours free parking.

How do we pay for it, well we could start by cancelling the membership of the Royal Overseas League.

But let's take a proper look at how parking in our towns should be run.

The best people to decide on parking charges for our communities are the communities themselves.

We are a council that preaches localism.

Let's put that into practice.

Let's work with the towns to find ways of setting pricing for car parks at levels that support and nurture them, not bleed them dry.

Let's work with the towns to find a way in which car users pay a fair price, and retailers get properly supported by their council.

Let's work with the towns to make residents and visitors alike WANT to visit our town centres.

We all know that there is no such thing as free parking.

But we also know that empty shops provide no jobs, no revenue and a shrinking local economy.

To date, on car parking this administration has been trying to have it's cake and eat it.

Well I'm afraid that this has simply led to us all being sick.