When the increases in car park charges across the county were announced in April 2011, Wiltshire Council’s press release said they were “designed to protect subsidised bus services…. Any additional revenue generated from the changes will go straight into protecting bus services.”
It would appear, from the information supplied to Marlborough News Online by Wiltshire Council that Marlborough residents are losing out, and a significant proportion of what we pay in parking charges funds bus services in other areas of the county.
This policy is justified by the statistic that forty-four per cent of households in the county have limited access to a car with sixteen per cent having no car at all.
The total income from car parks in the county administered by Wiltshire Council was forecast in the budget for 2011-2012 to be £9,292,000. (For a likely shortfall in that expected income see: 'High street woes? Don’t blame parking charges says Wiltshire Council report'.)
When costs of maintenance, wardens, collecting money from the ticket machines and so on, were taken into account, the net value to the Council this year was to be £6,641,000. How much of that sum is spent on subsidising bus routes?
The Council has also justified steep increases in some towns’ car parking charges on the grounds they want to harmonise the varying charges they inherited from the district councils when Wiltshire became a unitary authority. Have they also harmonised the spread of bus subsidies? Is it fair to our area?
For the current financial year the Council allotted £5,167,760 to pay for or subsidise public bus services. But this figure includes £1,112,800 spent on Salisbury’s park-and-ride buses – that’s 21.5 per cent of the total amount.*
(These figures do not include the Council’s budget for community bus services - about £175,000* - or concessionary fares, school buses and other public transport costs.)
Some bus routes are paid for in full, others are subsidised to allow companies to run services which may not be economically viable at certain times of day or on certain days of the week, but which the council deems are needed to get people to work, school or college.
The money pays for all or parts of:
- thirteen local Salisbury services;
- twenty-five “rural/interurban services radiating from Salisbury/Amesbury” (none of which pass through Marlborough);
- 112 “services in other parts of Wiltshire” of which thirteen serve Marlborough (including the now reduced Bath service.) *
Is Marlborough getting its fair share of the Council’s spend on bus subsidies? It’s hard to tell without more detailed figures, but it does not look as though the money is very evenly spread.
In January 2011, Councillor Dick Tonge, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for highways and transport, told Salisbury Area Board that £1.2 million of the 2010-2011 bus subsidy money was spent on routes in the Salisbury area. Adding in the park-and-ride bus services, that means forty-one per cent of the county’s total bus subsidy (money coming from car park charges across the county) was spent in the Salisbury area in 2010-2011 – a proportion that will not have changed much for the current year.
It is difficult to prise out of Wiltshire Council precise figures for a town’s car park revenues. But at the Council meeting in July 2011 figures were presented showing income during the first quarter (April to June) for each of Salisbury’s off-street and on-street car parks. If the first quarter’s figures are maintained until the end of March 2012, Salisbury will contribute £2,816,400 to the county’s total car park revenues – that’s about thirty per cent.
From the figures it certainly appears that the Salisbury area is getting more than its fair share of bus subsidies. And, of course, Salisbury has the advantage of a rail service, whereas a Conservative government stripped Marlborough of its rail connections in 1963.
One question that comes to mind is whether the difference between the income from car parks and the money spent on bus subsidies (over one million pounds) is just set against the total public transport budget.
However, there is one other very pertinent question raised by these figures: who will subsidise the buses if, as many people hope and a few expect, car parks are handed over, under the government’s ‘localism’ legislation, to town councils?
(* Facts and figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests.)
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A Christmas tree with a difference is planned to welcome visitors to Marlborough in December.
Instead of putting up a traditional fir tree on The Green, the town council is considering decorating with sparkling lights the fully grown ancient yew tree growing beside St Mary’s Church, plus the avenue of lime trees running alongside it.
“The plan is the greenest of our proposals,” Open Spaces Committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts told the town council on Monday.
The mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, personally supported the proposal while other councillors felt there should be a Christmas tree on The Green as well.
“This is cracking idea,” declared the mayor. “Having a tree on The Green is in fact difficult for motorists to see as they drive up and down”.
“But there are a lot of loose ends to this proposals. We shall have a meeting to sort them out.”
Councillor Peggy Dow agreed that it was a good way forward, adding: “I think this is an excellent idea.”