SALISBURY’s tourist information centre is being relocated to “a grimy underground car park” in a move that has been described as “a kick in the teeth” to residents and businesses.

The centre, currently located behind the Guildhall, will be combined with Shopmobility, and moved to its existing location underneath Sainsbury’s in the Maltings car park.

But Labour and Lib Dem councillors and members of the public opposed the idea, saying it would damage tourism, and that it could only be in place for a few years before the Maltings redevelopment, set to start in 2020.

Council clerk Annie Child set out plans for the new combined services, set to be called the Community Hub, which will be staffed by a manager and the equivalent of four full-time staff members.

She said the only location suitable for to house both existing services would be the Shopmobility unit, as it must have nearby disabled parking.

City council leader Matthew Dean said combining services now would keep costs down and would prevent either of them being lost at a later date.

And he said it could help prevent a steep rise in council tax next year, following a 69 per cent increase in the city precept this year.

“We think this is an amazing opportunity to grow the service, to make more savings and to use the service more efficiently,” he said.

And he said the existing Shopmobility unit will be fully refurbished to make it more attractive to visitors.

But Labour councillor John Walsh said the need to make savings “must be balanced with the need to serve the city residents and businesses”.

“At a time when everyone else is working hard to put Salisbury back on its feet, from the prime minister to Prince Charles, I find it incredible that we as a council should be considering hiding our information centre in a grimy underground car park,” he said.

The meeting’s public gallery was packed out with residents, who spoke mostly to oppose the proposal.

Penny May, who has been a Salisbury City Guide for more than 20 years, said having an information centre “with a shop window right in the city centre” was “essential” to visitors.

“Tourism is going to be more and more important in Salisbury,” she added.

A ‘meet and greet’ service will operate out of the front of the Guildhall, but concerns were raised that this would not be a seven-day service and could leave weekend visitors without information.

Another member of the public said it would be “a waste” to spend £35,000 on a unit that “might be knocked down” during the Maltings development.

And he said the decision should have been made public sooner, adding: “So much for any local consultation and once again democracy is a loser.”

Cllr Brian Dalton (Lib Dem) said: “For me, it’s a short term solution, it’s a waste of public money and we will be back here in 18 months’ time discussing where we are going to put the tourist information centre [when the Maltings is developed].”

Services committee chairman Sven Hocking said “if the worst comes to the worst and it all proves that we have made a terrible mistake” the council can “come back and revisit” the decision.

A report into the services said the relocation is set to cost £35,000, but Cllr Walsh said the only current costing for the scheme set it at a total of £67,000, and that the budget did not include redundancy costs of about £50,000 for existing staff.

But Cllr Dean said the overall savings of the scheme would be £60,000.

The meeting heard that the existing information centre would be used for council office space, but councillors would not confirm this.

Cllr Walsh proposed delaying the decision for a year, until the council had more information on the Maltings plans, but this was overturned, and Cllr Dean said it was part of “a Labour position of kicking things down the road when we have to make difficult decisions

Eight councillors supported the relocation, with five against.

Labour leader Mike Osment said the decision of the Conservatives was “extremely regrettable”, adding: “It will be seen by many as a kick in the teeth for businesses struggling to get back on their feet.”