Fury continues to grow at Salisbury Council’s lack of coordinated thinking when it comes to encouraging shoppers into the city centre. With occupancy rates of less than 25 per cent at its Culver Street car park, the council have been reduced to slashing the price of parking there and now is offering free parking after 3pm everyday.
For some traders this is a welcome concession, but for others it is too little too late and involves yet more taxpayers’ money being spent on a forlorn attempt to make the council’s white elephant car park more attractive to drivers.
‘In addition to the parking initiatives, Wiltshire Council are also undertaking a refurbishment of the Culver Street Shoppers Car Park including re-branding as a Shoppers Car Park and working with the BID and the City Council to create a more welcoming environment,’ says the director of Salisbury Business Improvement District (BID). ‘This will include replanting and redecoration of some of the area.’ BIDs are funded by a levy on shopkeepers and generally use this money to paper over errors in council policy making.
In the meantime, Wiltshire Council is looking at turning the more popular city centre Brown Street car park into a coach park, having sold off another coach park for development.
‘Brown Street car park is highly valued by local shoppers because it is about as far as many people are prepared to walk carrying shopping,’ observes one local. ‘An end to Brown Street car parking would be another nail in the coffin of Salisbury as a shopping and market town. Salisbury Vision says there is plenty of space in Culver Street, but that is because people don’t want to use it. Take away Brown Street and more people will find Salisbury an unattractive proposition and will stay away.’
‘One suspects part of the motive to develop coach parking in Brown Street,’ says another local, ‘stems from the disastrous waste of money on Culver Street, which is rarely used even when it is free.’
Why is that local residents and trades people always seem to have a better idea of how a city centre actually works than council bureaucrats? Funny that. And yet in the meantime, we see a senior manager at Wiltshire Council justifying her sky-high wage package of between £134,000 and £148,000 to a Parliamentary committee. Maggie Rae, a director at the council, says her job is not comparable to that of the Prime Minister, who is paid less, but she does work the same hours.
‘We’re paying middle-range salaries,’ Rae argues, ‘while at the same time we have ambition to be the most excellent council, and we are struggling to get staff into jobs even at those salaries because people can earn much more money in the private sector. I think we’ve got to work very hard to make sure local government doesn’t fall behind.’
It is the same tired old argument used to justify excessive salaries for local council mangers. Certainly, a few local residents would quibble at the quality of council decision making when it comes to encouraging visitors into Salisbury and keeping it a viable shopping centre.
Tim Newark, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance