Angry town councillors defy Wiltshire to launch a new tourism centre

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

Defiant Marlborough Town Council is to launch its own tourist information centre following the closure by Wiltshire Council of the public library based facility – with the Mayor’s parlour as its potential site.

Councillors voiced their angry concern at the loss of the TIC at Monday night’s meeting of its Finance and General Purposes Committee, when the county was accused of “dumping” the town it cared nothing for.

“We do seem to have been stuffed again by Wiltshire and I’m extremely upset about it,” protested Councillor Richard Pitts (pictured), who has chaired an emergency working party seeking a solution to the tourism centre’s disappearance.

“We have been dumped again by Wiltshire. They have not only destroyed our tourism but also our parking by introducing high charges that no tourists will pay.”

The meeting decided adopt a proposal made by Marlborough activist Val Compton and the two former Wiltshire tourist information centre employees for the town to have its own new centre, to be launched on July 1 with a £5,000 loan from the town council.

And to set it up initially in the Mayor’s parlour, used mainly as a robing room, in the town hall, while seeking permanent funding from other sources to maintain it, including Wiltshire’s own Marlborough Area Board.

“We are in desperate times,” declared Councillor Pitts. “And we need to take desperate measures to get something going by July 1. This is a stop gap solution so that we can catch the end of the tourism season and get people back into touch with Marlborough again.”

Former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross, chosen as the new chairman of the F&GP Committee, declared: “Clearly we have to pick up this commitment ourselves. We can’t accept what has happened now that Wiltshire have axed it.”

“We have to stand up and show leadership. And there is no other place for the TIC to go but here in this town hall.”

And Councillor Guy Loosmore, another member of the working party, agreed.

“What is happening may not be ideal, even temporary,” he said. “But if we don’t do anything then the council is failing the community. We will lose out otherwise.”

“We have been clobbered by Wiltshire. They have no interest in this town.”

It was Councillor Nick Fogg, himself a Wiltshire councillor, who proposed that the town council, if it passes the tourism plan at its next meeting, seeks funding from the Marlborough Area Board, and he was supported by Councillor Peggy Dow, also a Wiltshire councillor.

He congratulated all the members of the working party on their efforts, and said: “What you have done is fantastic.”

The proposal, outlined by Val Compton, is for Christina Ramsden and Robert Chrodi, the two tourist centre staff made redundant by Wiltshire, to run the new facilities as part-time managers, together with the support of band of enthusiastic volunteers, on a three-month basis.  They will be self-employed on short-term contracts.

St Peter’s Church was the original site suggested for the facility but this has now been ruled out as “a non-runner” and the Mayor’s parlour and/or the entrance of the town hall earmarked as the site.

This would give time for the town council to seek financial backing for a permanent centre from the Marlborough Area Development Trust, Community First and the Area Board to fund the project on a permanent basis.

Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, whose executive has already backed the proposal, is another target for funding, the town’s own retailers benefiting from increased tourism activity, together with some funding too from the town council once its initial loan is repaid.

“All this would give us a suitable degree of independence,” said Councillor Pitts. “It would be a double-edged sword and provide a regular revenue stream coming in.”

The town council will now be presented with a business plan for the new information and tourism centre, which itself is expected to bring annual revenue of £10,000 from the sale of souvenirs and guides to the area.

Modest fees will also come from hotels, bed and breakfast properties, restaurants and pubs listed on a new Marlborough tourism website. High fees charged by VisitWiltshire, which receives £500,000 funding from Wiltshire Council, have resulted in only one hotel in Marlborough being listed and only one out of the town's pubs and  restaurant shown to be available in the area.