A FIRM of consultants has been brought in to get “under the skin” of Salisbury and help to rebrand the city after the nerve agent attack.

Salisbury Area Board on Thursday night was given an update on plans to support the city’s recovery following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Scripal in March.

Councillor Pauline Church, who is the cabinet member of economic development and south Wiltshire recovery, spoke of the long term plans for the recovery, which included the use of consultants to help rebrand the city.

She said: “My objective is to make Salisbury a better place than it was before March 4. I truly believe we have to harness the focus and this attention on Salisbury to make that happen.”

She told the meeting there would be a focus on the high street and reposition and modernise it to make it “more resilient” as well as looking at ways to “expand and diversify” the cultural offering in the city for visitors. Another area being looked at is changing the perception of Salisbury.

Councillor Church said: “Salisbury is now world renowned and perhaps not for the reason we would want it to be. What we need to do is to try and almost rebrand and we are going through exactly that.

“We have employed a firm of consultants who are doing some work with key individuals in the city and there are some workshops as well to really get under the skin of Salisbury, what Salisbury is and how we can perhaps rebrand it for our visitors and change people’s perceptions.

“We have a great base to work from, we have got the most beautiful city but there is so much we can do and in some areas we do rest on our laurels. We want to use that period of creativity to change perception if we can.”

She also spoke about the impact on footfall in the city and visitor numbers. She said: “As we all know after the first incident our footfall did substantially reduce.”

She said it was about 20 per cent below the figures for last year but it had improved before the second incident in Amesbury with figures about 4.2 per cent below the 2017 figure.

“Unfortunately after the second event in early July the footfall in Salisbury declined again,” said Cllr Church. “Footfall at the moment is about 13.7 per cent down compared to the 2017 figure.

“Before this incident we were actually trending three per cent above the national figure. Salisbury historically has had some good footfall figures.”

Visitor numbers, the meeting heard, had dropped at Salisbury Playhouse, the cathedral and Salisbury Museum.

Councillor Church said retail surveys had been carried out with Salisbury Business Improvement District (BID) on retail space available and vacancy rates. The current vacancy rate is 7.4 per cent with 17 retail units available. The national average is 11.1 per cent.

“This is something we want to keep a real eye,” she said: “We really want to make sure we are supporting businesses as much as we can over the next year period so we can make sure retailers keep their leases going and keep trading in our city.”

She added: “We have been focusing on boosting tourism and visitor numbers and this has been done by direct business support.”

This included financial support, business rate relief and business advice.

She said about 120 grant applications have been given to businesses, adding: “It has been a really positive and substantial level of support.”

Other initiatives to provide short term help to the city included free parking. From Monday (October 1) the parking will be free after 3pm every day of the week until Christmas Eve. The five park and ride sites will continue to be free up until Christmas Eve.

Decontamination work now been completed at a number of sites in the city with Zizzi restaurant expected to be opened before Christmas.

Alistair Cunningham, the chairman of the recovery group, said: “The good news is all city centre sites are now handed back clean. We are only working now on the house in Christie Miller Road and that work is ongoing at the moment.”

He told the meeting that the cordon at the front of Zizzi’s will remain for about three more weeks to allow for painting work to be carried out. The hoardings at the back of the restaurant near the river are expected to come down over the weekend.

Mr Cunningham added: “We are getting to a point that both The Mill and Zizzi will be worked on over the next few months and be open again in time for the Christmas period. That is really good news for the centre of Salisbury.”

Amesbury Baptist Church was given the all clear by Defra on Thursday and work is being done at Boots in Amesbury. Clean up work is continuing in Muggleton Road.