Wiltshire Publications

Town council to re-evaluate providing two hours of free parking in wake of likely price hike

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WESTBURY Town Council recently debated the financial viability of continuing to supply the three car parks in town with two hours of free parking, following the potential increase in parking charges by Wiltshire Council. 

Wiltshire Council announced that from 1st April they would start charging for Sunday parking in all Wiltshire Council car parks, as well as removing free event parking.  

The second round of parking changes, such as introducing parking charges for blue badge holders and raising the car parking charges on all tariffs by 10p, is set to undergo a consultation, whereby local people can have their say on the decision.  

If the second round of parking changes goes through, Westbury Town Council (who currently pay for two hours of free parking in the three car parks in town) will see their contribution rise from £35,000 to £45,000. 

At a meeting of the highways, planning and development committee of the town council, councillors proposed approaching Wiltshire Council to see how much money would actually be saved if the town council no longer pays for two hours’ free parking.  There were concerns that the cost of paying for Wiltshire Council employed parking enforcement officers would stay the same if, for example, the town council reduced the two hours of free parking to just an hour. 

The council also proposed to undertake an informal consultation with the traders in town to see how the idea would impact small businesses. No decision is to be made until a meeting of the town council in May. 

At the town council’s HP&D meeting, cllr Matt Dean said, “I have never been clear as to who exactly benefits from this incentive. I know that it is instinctively popular, as people like the idea of getting something for free, but does it make a radical difference to improve the economic viability of small businesses in town? My view is that £42,000 is actually a significant amount of money. I am not against this in principle, but I want somebody to explain to me why this is a priority. I was never comfortable with £35,000, but now we are up to £42,000.” 

Cllr Gordon King said, “The reason we introduced this is because we were asked by a number of traders to consider providing two hours of free parking in the town, in the hope they would see more customers. The commercial zone in Westbury is fragile and needs supporting. 

“In terms of footfall, this has definitely increased in the high street. Use of the car park is higher than what it was previously, although this may not lead into footfall into the shops, but the rate of decline and closure of shops has slowed in that period as well. Shops currently face huge challenges, both in terms of increases in interest rates and inflation. It’s not over really, and whilst it’s not over, I think it’s quite right and proper that we support the town.” 

One councillor suggested that the town council paying for two hours of free parking actually encourages the town to be more car centric, a policy Westbury Town Council is actively trying to avoid. 

Cllr Hamilton Sheen said, “I agree that two hours is too long; if I’m going for a small trip, like grabbing a portion of chips, it doesn’t take me two hours. But I would actually go further. I think that this idea benefits the car owners which doesn’t make sense when we, as a council, talk about wanting more cyclists and pedestrians in the town. Why are we doing this just to benefit the people who can own cars? 

“The money comes from everybody in Westbury so I think the money should be spent on something that benefits the whole town. Free parking is for the narrow section of people, so I think we should abandon this completely. If you’ve got money to buy a car, you’ve got a pound to pay for parking.” 

Cllr Jane Russ added, “£42k strikes me as a ridiculous amount for this council to pay for parking.” 

Cllr Ward Jones said, “The compromise is to reduce down from two hours of free parking to one hour. I think we should test the waters on this however. The point being that if you simply want to pop into a shop, you don’t need more than one hour, if you are going to stay for two hours, you are doing something that probably involves cost anyway, so to add a pound to that would be insignificant in terms of the total spend.” 

Cllr Dean proposed that the town council should engage in an informal consultation with the traders in town to discuss the idea, as well as approaching Wiltshire Council about potential costs. Westbury Town Council have until June to make a decision, and as a result, they have decided to defer any decision until a full town council meeting in May.  

Cllr Sutton concluded, “This is open to review every year – this is not set in stone.”