PEOPLE in Salisbury are set to see the city part of their council tax rise by an average of 16.6 per cent, while £10,000 is to be spent on finding out whether taking over the closed bus station is feasible.
City councillors decided at a meeting on Monday that they would spend the cash to appoint a consultant to see if there is a business case to take over the station, which was closed earlier this month after the Go Ahead group, which owns Wilts & Dorset buses, said it was not commercially viable to keep it open.
The proposal proved controversial, with several members speaking out against it.
Cllr Ian Tomes said: “We are talking about wasting £10,000. It’s madness to be quite frank.”
And Cllr Tom Corbin said: “In this meeting the Conservatives supported the bus station bid process at a very conservative estimate of £10,000, which we feel is somewhere very wide of the mark given we have absolutely no professional knowledge or experience to run such an asset. I think we may have suggested £30,000 as a more realistic figure.”
At the same meeting councillors set their budget for the coming financial year, which will equate to an extra £15 on the average Band D property, rising from £90 to £105.
This will be just for the city council’s part of the tax, with potential rises to come from the precepts for the fire and police service and Wiltshire Council.
City council leader Andrew Roberts said: “Any increase in taxes is always unwelcome but a decline in the standard of the city would be worse. While the percentage rise in the precept this year appears dramatic, we should not forget that a large percentage of a small number is still a small number and that over 60 per cent of Salisbury households pay less than the full band D precept.
“Having provided the necessary means this year we are firm in our intent to make no further increases in the next two years. So the Band D precept will have risen from £80 to £105 over eight years, broadly in line with inflation, while we have made major investments in city assets and events without significant outside support."
But Cllr Patricia Fagan, who was voted in after a by-election last week, said: “It’s my first meeting and I am horrified at the disregard for the residents.
“I’ve been out canvassing very recently and that isn’t what the residents wanted at all.”
It was accepted that the money spent on consultants for the bus station could be more or less than allocated and that it is unclear if any operators would be willing to run bus services even if the station were to be taken on by the council as a community asset.
Cllr Corbin said that when Go Ahead were asked this at a previous meeting “we were met with pretty much a silence; no forthcoming ‘yes we will use the bus station if you take it on’.”
The bus station is currently on the market, and Wiltshire Council has put in new bus stops and layover bays around the city centre, at an estimated cost of £100,000.