A CONTROVERSIAL decision to relocate Salisbury’s information centre to the Maltings has faced huge public backlash this week, and the leader of the city council is now saying there will be an unspecified “tourist service” remaining at the Guildhall.

The council’s services committee agreed at a meeting last Monday that the centre, currently located behind the Guildhall, will be combined with the city’s existing Shopmobility unit underneath Sainsbury’s in the Maltings car park.

A petition calling for the decision to be reversed gained almost 4,000 signatures in four days, with residents branding the move “utterly appalling” and “disgraceful”.

Labour and Lib Dem councillors said the move would damage tourism, and that the £35,000 cost of refurbishing Shopmobility would be a waste of public money as the Maltings is set for redevelopment in the next two to three years and the unit may be demolished.

Labour councillor John Walsh said: “At a time when everyone else is working hard to put Salisbury back on its feet. I find it incredible that we as a council should be considering hiding our information centre in a grimy underground car park.”

But council leader Matthew Dean (Conservative) said the decision would protect both existing services and make savings to avoid a council tax hike next year.

After the Journal’s initial report of the decision (June 28), Cllr Dean said: “I’ve made it very clear that we are not, and we never were, going to stop having a tourist service from the Guildhall.

“We are going to have a tourist service from the front of the Guildhall, it’s going to be a high-profile service that’s going to cater for tourists in the way that we have always done.”

The council report presented to the services committee and members of the public ahead of the decision made no mention of any such service, and the only reference made to it before the vote was of a “meet and greet” service that would answer basic queries or direct people to the new centre in the Maltings.

Instead, it stated that both services would be combined into “one integrated team working from a single location in the future”.

And Cllr Walsh said “it was not made clear at the meeting” that the tourism service would still operate from the Guildhall, adding: “If it was mentioned it was a throwaway remark, it was just an attempt by Cllr Dean to try and head off what he knows is not good news for this plan of his. The whole city is up in arms over this from what I can see. He has misjudged the feeling of the city.

“As residents we are concerned about the recovery process and we do not want to see any of the building blocks for recovery removed.”

Cllr Walsh added that having two different services will be “confusing for tourists” and that the meet and greet service at the Guildhall will be “seen as a quaint English foible to pretend to offer help, but then have to admit they can’t provide it”.

“If they [tourists] are offered little more than a map and told to go 400 metres away for any serious help, I can foresee a certain frustration developing.”

Labour leader Mike Osment previously said the “extremely regrettable” decision “will be seen by many as a kick in the teeth for businesses struggling to get back on their feet.”

Cllr Dean denied this, and added: “I apologise to the public if the papers were not clear about the future of the tourism element of the information centre.

“We were focussed on the creation of the new community hub at the Maltings and we took it as read that people would understand what we meant for the other services.”