WHAT do businesses want? That’s a crucial question for the future of Salisbury.

And it’s what the Neighbourhood Plan working group are focusing on this evening (from 6pm) in the Guildhall.

A report I found on the Wiltshire website offers some thought-provoking answers.

Drawn up by Myddelton & Major, who know a thing or two about this stuff, it explains for the benefit of planners why there have been no takers in 13 years for the business park in front of Booker that’s now destined to become a housing estate.

For starters, it describes Harnham as “a sub-optimal location”, because firms operating on a medium-to-large scale want better road accessibility nowadays, preferably along the A303, M3, M4, M5 and M27 corridors. Quelle surprise! It’s not hard to understand why motor dealerships – one of the original permitted uses for the site – wouldn’t fancy manoeuvring car transporters through the queues at the Gyratory.

Though why on earth they stay at Churchfields beats me. It’s hardly more accessible. Must be the herd theory in action.

Anyway, it’s also become “increasingly apparent”, the report says, that the old dream (not mine!) of relocating Churchfields businesses south of the city is uneconomic without government aid. And that’s not been forthcoming. Well, I never! (Bodes well for Wiltshire Council’s insistence on having a business park alongside the mega housing estate next to the cattle market, doesn’t it? But then, if it doesn’t get any takers after 10 years, ‘government guidance’ will allow the landowners to put in for housing there, too. How likely do you think that is, on a scale of 1 to 10? I’d give it 11.)

“The appetite for new build is restricted by the opportunity to acquire second-hand industrial space at significantly lower cost,” the business report goes on. And there’s been plenty of that in recent years, such as the old Mahle and Equinox sites.

Hence there’s a “lack of local demand for new commercial buildings within a five-mile radius of Salisbury”.

Brexit pops up here, too. It’s everywhere, isn’t it?

The report suggests that Brexit uncertainty has led to a reduction in demand for sites from smaller businesses, and that supply and demand are currently “in equilibrium”, while there’s at least four years’ worth of office space available, with no demand at all in south Wiltshire for large-scale office buildings.

Overall, the report’s authors conclude, “demand for employment land in Salisbury and south Wiltshire remains weak”.

People often tell me they wonder what jobs the people moving into all our new housing are going to do, and I have to say I haven’t a clue. They must be either retired, or commuting elsewhere. They can’t all be going to work at the Porton science park, surely?

To quote Netherhampton parish council chairman Paul Cunningham: “If only there were some evidence, somewhere, of a plan.”