Parking charges: Is Wiltshire Council set on killing Marlborough's Christmas?
Wiltshire Council has decided to stop allowing towns to have their quota of free parking days in November and December. This scheme was designed to support high streets and local retailers.
If this second round of changes does go through - as it is expected to - towns will have to choose other times of the year for their free parking days. That in turn means that parking spaces needed for Christmas celebrations will have to be bought from Wiltshire Council.
The High Street parking spaces needed for the Rotary Christmas tree will cost £2,200. The spaces needed for the day of Marlborough's Christmas Lights Switch-on will cost what town councillors were told is "an unaffordable £2,300." (The maths? 115 spaces at £20 a day = £2,300.)
The Town Council-led committee organising the 2018 Switch-on is trying to find an alternative - and free - place to put the Rotary Christmas tree. The £2,300 cost to the Switch-on itself is a harder nut to crack.
The changes - over and above the 11+ per cent hike in hourly charges already in operation and which also include the significant rise in the cost of Parking Permits and charges for Sunday and Public Holiday parking - will go to another of Wiltshire Council's specially designed consultations in March or April.
A decision will then be made by a single Wiltshire Councillor - a 'portfolio holder'. And the charges and changes will come into force in August.
During the discussion of these issues at Monday evening's meeting of the Town Council Planning Committee (February 19), Councillor Susie Price said that the Switch-on had become a distinctive part of Marlborough's life and must be preserved.
Councillors have asked the Town Clerk to write 'in the strongest terms' to the Wiltshire cabinet member for parking, and to find out how other towns facing these county-wide increases are seeking to oppose them.
Councillor Mark Cooper criticised the plan to bring the Sunday parking charges into operation in August - the very month that Marlborough saw the greatest number of overseas tourists coming to the town. He suggested that at the very least the changes should be postponed until after the summer: "It's a crazy decision - but it should be postponed."
Councillors also decided to engage retailers in a concerted campaign to pressure Wiltshire Council to think again on this raft of policies - especially when the High Street was facing an unusually high number of closures and some retailers had been hit hard by the traffic chaos due to the number and siting of road works in the town.
The Town Mayor, Councillor Mervyn Hall, who is leading work on the Neighbourhood Plan, told councillors that Marlborough had 534 off road parking paces. At peak times 94 per cent of these were usually occupied - causing problems and putting people off trying to stay to shop and eat in the town.
He has worked out that to reduce this figure to a more manageable 80 per cent, the town needed 94 more parking spaces. He wondered why Wiltshire Council could not see that and find somewhere to put extra spaces - it would, after all, help them raise more money.