Marlborough businesses will have a greater say about the closure of Britain's widest High Street for resurfacing in 2013 than they did about the closure of the Pewsey Road Bridge in 2010.
That was the pledge from Chamber of Commerce president Paul Shimell, elected for a second year to lead the business organisation.
He told twenty business leaders at the chamber's annual general meeting that a better relationship with council officials meant businesses – especially retailers – would have much more input into the planning of potentially-disruptive roadworks.
The traffic chaos caused by the closure of the Pewsey Road due to the replacing of the bridge two years ago has not been forgotten. The works lasted nearly two years – with a business-negotiated break over Christmas – and caused severe traffic jams as one of only two crossings over the River Kennet was closed.
But Mr Shimell, franchise holder at Specsavers in Marlborough High Street, assured the meeting that businesses would get more of a say from now on.
“The Chamber of Commerce is now sitting around the table with the town council and Wiltshire Highways,” he said.
“There will be resurfacing works soon. London Road will be done first, because it is in the worst condition, and in 2013 High Street will be resurfaced.
“We will be telling them how we want it laid out. There will be more consideration for pedestrians.
“We can now say what happens and when. We can't get to the ridiculous stage we were at with the Pewsey Road Bridge.”
As part of this new relationship, the Chamber was heading up the development of a Town Plan, Mr Shimell told the meeting.
“This Chamber-led initiative sees us sitting around the table with the town council, the police, the Transition Town movement, Marlborough Area Development Trust and a town planner,” he said.
He said the town plan may eventually lead to the formation of a Business Improvement District (BID), where all of the towns businesses pay a surcharge on their business rates if the majority vote in favour of the scheme.
The BID is seen as a way of getting large, uninvolved national chains contributing to the vitality of town centres.
Looking back on his first term as president, Mr Shimell – the first retailer to hold the post for at least five years – said: “It started in tough times and unfortunately we are still in tough times... and the weather isn't helping.
“My first job was to build a better link between the Chamber and the retailers, and there's been a big push around that.
“The fashion show, in November, was a great success: a lot of work went into it, a lot of businesses supported it, and it boosted businesses.
“Our jubilee ball was well attended, and the event raised a lot of money for Swift Medics – we were able to give them just short of £800.
“And we moved on to decorating the town with red, white and blue flower baskets for the Olympic flame and the jubilee, and the High Street looked good as a result.”
Mr Shimell said plans for 2012 a repeat of the fashion show, a golf event and more business networking opportunities.
The meeting then heard from not one, but two guest speakers.
Dee Temple-Multon from the newly-formed Wiltshire Business Support Service, which has picked up some of the services once provided by Business Link, talked about the work of the Wiltshire Council-backed organisation.
“We've been established to provide business owners with real business help and support,” she said.
The meeting heard that since April Wiltshire Business Support Service has already provided one-on-one advice or group training to over 200 business people. Around a quarter were people thinking about starting a business and around a fifth were new businesses, while most were established businesses.
The meeting also heard from Graham Pound from First4Skills, a government-contracted agency which provides young apprentices, aged between 16 and 18, to businesses under the Placed Apprentice scheme.
The apprentices receive formal training from First Skills during their 12-month apprenticeship, with an NVQ qualification at the end if they pass, while the employer is obliged to pay the apprentice £100 a week.
“For local businesses wanting to employ local young people this is ideal,” said Graham. “There is no obligation to keep the apprentices after the first year, but nine out of ten employers choose to keep them on, because after twelve months they are a real asset to the company.”
Mr Pound said the apprenticeships best suited retail businesses, call centres and administrative departments. For businesses with less than 250 employees, he said, there was government funding towards meeting the costs of the £100 per week wage packet.