Not having ever met Wiltshire Council Leader Jane Scott or Andrew Kerr (their new CEO), we attended Wednesday’s public meeting at the Guildhall out of curiosity.
It lived down to expectations. It’s hard to know how the question-and-answer session is best characterised: was it patronising, uncaring or merely uncomprehending? They weren’t here to talk about car parking charges, we were told, but of course that was what most people wanted to discuss. “Salisbury has a nip-in culture” explained one audience member. “We tend to use our cars to nip in somewhere for 10 minutes to pick up a prescription or whatever.” Expecting anyone to pay £2.20 for the privilege of doing so was daft.
So why hadn’t they consulted properly? “We did consult”, Cllr Scott declared, “And we didn’t get a single objection. Not one.”
So it seems it was all our fault, not theirs. Why hadn’t we warned them that more than doubling the cost of parking would lead to a catastrophic drop in customer footfall, a car parking boycott by local villagers and the loss of jobs as trade went elsewhere? How on earth could councillors be expected to realise that? Salisbury City Management had said it was OK, and so had the Area Board. Who else were they supposed to have asked – the rest of us?
“Not everyone reads the Salisbury Journal” declared Mr Kerr when yours truly suggested a letter to the local paper would have saved them a lot of trouble. “There are other methods of communication.”
He mentioned the newsletter sent to all 400,000 or so who make up Wiltshire’s Big Society. Yet in our household the unopened Wiltshire Council newsletter goes for immediate junk mail recycling, and I suspect the same is true for many others - not because we don’t care about the “news” from Trowbridge, but because so much is irrelevant. We’re in the south, and they’re in the north.
That was one of the most sensitive toes Mr Kerr managed to step on when he mentioned fellow county residents in Malmesbury. But who cares here about them? Here traders are worried about Winchester, Southampton, Romsey, Bournemouth and Blandford – all nearby places where parking is cheaper, the shops every bit as good as ours, and which are now taking our business.
While admitting things weren’t right, Mr Kerr talked of taking months to decide what needs to be done. But Salisbury doesn’t have months: traders here are suffering right now, and some could go under very soon. Wiltshire Council should suspend the new charges immediately, before they do any more harm. Everyone down here knows that but not, it seems, up in Planet Trowbridge.