Marlborough town councillors unite in bid to boost business by setting up new tourism centre
In a welcome show of unity, two groups of Marlborough town councillors joined hands last night (Monday) in a bid to set up a new tourist information centre (TIC) to boost summer business as the recession bites and companies nationally collapse.
They voted loans totalling £6,240 from the council’s coffers to organise an emergency TIC, possibly in the mayoral parlour at the town hall, to provide an immediate service following the shock decision of Wiltshire Council to close the public library based information point.
With the backing of Marlborough’s Chamber of Commerce members, the aim is to encourage visitors to the town to stay longer by using local hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, pubs, restaurants and other facilities while enjoying tourist attractions such as prehistoric Silbury Hill and Avebury plus Marlborough’s international jazz and literary festivals.
And they decided at the same time to formalise a working party group of councillors and expert interested parties to plan the reintroduction of a permanent TIC, to cater for long-term local needs.
“The town is looking for leadership after taking another kicking from Wiltshire Council,” declared Councillor Richard Pitts. “We have to stand up for the businesses of the town and help visitors to find bed and breakfast accommodation.”
And Councillor Guy Loosmore urged: “We need to move forward and have a vision for our town and for the future, otherwise we shall regret it.”
The two councillors had initiated, along with former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross, a working party led by Marlborough activist Val Compton and the two former TIC staff who were employed by Wiltshire Council, and gained the support of the Chamber of Commerce.
Now they wanted to take over the mayor’s parlour – and possibly part of the town hall entrance – for a temporary TIC to attract trade to the town and boost tourism in the coming weeks of the summer.
But Councillor Nick Fogg, also a Wiltshire councillor, while expressing concern over the loss of past and current TICs, called for the setting up of a new working group of interested parties “to examine ways in which the visitor base of the town might be maintained and expanded.”
There was a need to do things properly, he insisted, at a time when TICs nationally were “falling like ninepins” because cost-cutting local authorities were withdrawing grants. That included the TIC in Stratford upon Avon, which attracted the fourth largest number of visitors in the country.
There was an urgent need to talk to those TICs that had been successfully sustained by other towns, to encourage traders to help fund tourism publicity leaflets and events.
“What we need is to seek the best practice as established elsewhere to overcome the crisis facing this town,” he pointed out.
His wife, the deputy mayor Edwina Fogg, strongly opposed the taking over of the town’s historic mayoral parlour, pointing out that it was far too small and visitors to a TIC there would interfere with other events taking place in the town hall - such as weddings.
Councillor Stewart Dobson was opposed to “handing over cheques to strangers seeking profits” without a proper financial basis, while Councillor Ross, a retired accountant, pointed out that that the proposed TIC was not being established as a profit-making business but as a service that needed to be pump primed with council funds.
The debate was all part of a two and a half hour meeting during which councillors often displayed puerile and bitter divisions, the mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, frequently banging his gavel and shouting at councillors to “shut up”.
The future prosperity of Marlborough seemed in doubt when two opposing motions were tabled by Councillors Fogg and Pitts, but they finally came together in the heat of the meeting when Councillor Fogg accepted that the current working party should act as the nucleus of his proposals and, along with other councillors, agreed the need for a temporary TIC to be established.
And Councillor Pitts told members that the funding arrangements would be made “totally transparent from the start”, adding: “We want to develop something that will be great for the town.
“If we don’t, then we might as well all pack up and go home.”
Before a unanimous vote to issue the loan funding was taken, the mayor himself agreed with the proposals that might deny him temporary use of his parlour.
“There needs to be a financial commitment by this council to get this project going,” he declared. “Then we can work on plans for a permanent home for the TIC.”