Annual town meeting hears questions about Oxenwood closure & debates introducing 20mph restrictions
This was probably Marlborough's best attended Annual Meeting of the Town Council (April 23) for years and the brisk review of the Council's year, the public questions and a debate on the introduction of 20mph restrictions should ensure a similar turnout in years to come.
The Town Mayor, Councillor Mervyn Hall, took us through a business-like review of the year - committee by committee. He explained the rise in the precept (the Town Council's share of our Council Tax bills) and highlighted some of the more controversial areas the planning committee had dealt with ("We have lost our play area" at Rabley Wood View) and services the Town Council have had to take over from Wiltshire Council.
Pride of place went to the work of councillors and council staff to re-open the Youth Centre as Marlborough's Community and Youth Centre - a building that had been abandoned by Wiltshire Council. Similarly, the upgrading of the George Lane toilets (also abandoned by Wiltshire Council) had been a success - with the likelihood that spare space in that building could soon become a tourist information point.
Public questions centred on Wiltshire Council's closure of the Oxenwood and Braeside Outdoor Education Centres and on parking in the town.
Sylvia Card said 'people are very angry' about the closure of the outdoor education centres which would be felt especially hard by families on low incomes. She asked when the town council had been informed about the closures - they have not been formally informed. They have not seen the 'eighteen month review of the centres'. Nor have they seen an equality impact assessment of the decision.
"Will you", she asked the Mayor, "as the town council oppose this move?" "It is not yet on a town council agenda...I personally deeply regret the closure - and it affects children at St Mary's School."
Later Ms Card returned the subject: "Are you just a reactive town council or are you proactive? One duty of the town council is to be out there making a noise." The Mayor replied: "We are not a protest group or a political party. We could protest, but we'd not have much impact."
Attention then turned to parking. Jenny Noble asked about the Kelham Gardens site and the Mayor said he was going to the cabinet meeting in Trowbridge to ask for a Community Asset Transfer of the land: "I don't rate my chances too high as they probably want money for it". And sure enough they do - see this report.
Val Compton pleaded with the town council to get Wiltshire Council going on residents' parking. She cited a Landrover that had been parked in Kennet Place for six months "all totally legal" but "...blocking us parking in our road."
She wanted a scheme that allows unrestricted parking for residents with time restricted places for everyone else. She quoted a night shift worker who cannot find parking in the morning and has to hunt around the town for a space. The sort of situation that leads to "...car parking wars and pitting people against each other."
High Street resident John Ford, who has been campaigning against the huge rise in permits, noted that in her reply to him, Claire Perry MP had favoured a residents' parking scheme. She had copied her letter to Wiltshire Councillor Bridget Wayman who is in charge of parking in the county. Had there been a response from her? "No."
There was then a very full debate on the pros and cons of introducing 20mph restrictions in parts of the town - following an assessment by Wiltshire Council using metrocount data. On a show of hands at the start of the debate some three-quarters favoured introducing the speed limits and a quarter were against.
Jane Davies, Wiltshire Councillor for the villages west of Marlborough, spoke in favour of the speed restrictions. She pointed out that with the changes in shopping habits, High Streets that survive will need to be seen as good destinations to visit. The speed limits would help the way the High Street looks and feels - and improve its air quality.
Those against the speed restrictions brought up the cost and also sought to undermine claims about improved road safety and improved air quality that the 20mph limit is said to achieve.
Both the latter points were contradicted with some force - with detailed figures on how the likelihood of being killed in a road accident is reduced by lower speeds, and detailed figures on the different forms pollution cars cause - and cause at different speeds.
On the road safety aspect one member of the audience said the likelihood of being killed in an accident at 20mph was 2.5 per cent, but rose to 20 per cent at 30mph: "Do we really need it to be my child before we take action?"
The Mayor pointed out that the cost of the larger of the two suggested scheme - the one that includes Kingsbury Street and St Martins - was £10,000 which would be split between various funding sources.
The lack of action on the new crossing point on George Lane for Marlborough St Mary's pupils and parents came up. The painting of two SLOW signs on the newly re-surfaced road was not considered good enough.
Wiltshire Council was still saying it might take 18 months to get proper warnings or controls in place. Since a new school on that site has been in the offing for a couple of decades or more, that was considered slow progress.
The Town Council has put the proposals for 20mph restrictions out to consultation. It involves a very simple survey. The consultation ends at 4pm on Friday, April 27.
A show of hands at the end of this debate saw slightly more people in favour of the restrictions.
The meeting also heard a very good presentation of what the locally based 4 Military Intelligence Battalion - Marlborough's adopted military unit - is doing at the moment. This included a very interesting and revealing description of its deployment to Estonia as part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence on its eastern borders: "Very much a defensive operation" - and a long term one too.
There was one other question for the Town Council to worry about. Peter Noble welcomed moves to encourage tourists to the town - including the flying of the town's flag (or is it a 'standard'?) over the Town Hall. However, the flag often slips down the mast - "And we are left wondering which Town Councillor has died!"
It seems the flagpole needs new ropes (or are they 'halyards'? Or do only ships have 'halyards'?).
[This article was changed later on 24 April to correct an error - it should have read "equality impact assessment' - as it now does - our apologies.]