I’m rapping with Devizes Town Clerk Simon Fisher about the transfer deal from Wiltshire Council to Devizes Town Council, and the future usage of the Market Place; throw me a paddle, why do I get myself into these things?
Not one to usually report news items, leave that to the trustworthy local journal, I felt this current local issue doing the rounds on social media does concern Devizine, being we’re an event and entertainment website. The Wiltshire Council’s transfer package to Devizes Council, is close to becoming Devizes’ own Brexit. I’m not taking sides, no sir-ey, not me, not getting involved.
Talk of converting the Market Place into a pedestrianised, “vibrant” community and social area is of interest to us, because I feel we need more areas like this, and kind of warm to the idea; in an ideal world.
The sad reality is though, while I appreciate any effort to improve sites for entertainment purposes, and this would be also be environmentally sounder than its current usage as a carpark, Devizes simply doesn’t have the capacity, infrastructure and population to support such a proposal. The idea of having a mini-Glastonbury in Devizes town centre all cool and groovy, but really, for much of the time would it really be so? Could we actually do this, or, as the other angle of the debate sharply points out, is dramatically reducing free parking in town going to have a detrimental effect of the businesses there?
It’s a melon-twister for sure, I wouldn’t want local businesses of suffer anymore than I’d want the space to become a barren desert left to a posse of drinkers sitting on a bench with a few tinnies. Yet the space, when needed, such as DOCA events, has been used effectively, just as they propose, with great effect, then it returns to a carpark.
Rather similar to Glastonbury, which is a vibrant festival of performing arts, a virtual city of revellers, for a week, but returns to be Worthy, a working farm the rest of the year. No one is suggesting you can’t park that cow in that field, as we want it to be Glastonbury Festival every day. As soon as I heard news of this, I despatched a few questions in an email to Town Clerk, Simon Fisher.
But opinions fly and fury rages on social media far quicker than media like your truly can relate, obtain a response and publish an article. I awaited a reply before joining any online witch-hunt. Simon did respond with an apology, just as I was wondering if the email to DC had accidently been sent to comic publishers instead, stating he was busy and would answer my questions soon.
With itchy fingers, I thought I’d kill some time while I waited for Simon Fisher to respond, by writing a short story. So, you lucky people, I’ve two articles out today; either scroll down for a response to my questions about the transfer from the Town Clerk, or click here to read my short story, which, I must point out, bears no resemblance to this, or any other local issues currently doing the rounds. Best option is to do both.
I greeted Simon, hoping he was in a fine fettle and wished him a bleated happy new year, cos I’m nice like that, what more evidence do you need? Well, for starters, I congratulated Devizes Council on this news, as in theory it sounds good. I’m all for keeping local issues between locals.
“On the WC article,” I asked Simon, “you’re quoted, ‘a programme that will support local communities to have greater control over services that help shape their towns.’ Yet one complaint on a Facebook group asks, ‘Bringing control of services to the locals?! I don’t think so! Is this really what local people wanted? No!’ So, what is the best procedure, for people who’d like to make suggestions and put their point across to DC?”
This didn’t get an answer, so I’ve no idea, email them through their website I guess, maybe I was being bleeding obvious! But along similar lines I asked, “How is DC communicating with the public to obtain the most popular and favourable decisions?”
This did receive a reply, bit indirect, but a reply nonetheless, “What is meant by this is that it is the Councillor who have been elected by local residents, who will be making decisions and those Councillors will be better in places to understand local concerns.”
Okay-dokey, that’s not incorrect by any means but…… moving swiftly on, “The main concern is the plans for the Market Place,” I probed, “and the ending of car parking. Why is this being done?”
“We consulted with the stakeholders,” Mr Fisher explained, “including FSB and the C of C, over changes to parking in the Market Place and they concluded that of the limited options available from Wiltshire Council, the option to have a community space with some exempt chargeable parking was the best option and that is what has been included within the transfer package. During the parking review we conducted a survey (537 people responded) and the option to turn the car park into a pay and display, was the least popular option which was the only way the who are could be retained it as a carpark.”
“Aside for environmental reasons,” I asked next, “the space is made available for “community use” when the opportunities to fill it are apparent, DOCA events, May Fair, etc. The remaining time it is perhaps better filled for parking, to make the shops accessible. Such a large community space is great for large events, and of course, Devizine thoroughly supports and encourages this, but a Tuesday morning in February, for example, the area will be barren, surely?”
“We accept that we will need to put resources into the town centre to ensure the place does not look barren space and that there is plenty going on,” Simon explained, to my satisfaction.
“I ask DC, how can a town of Devizes size, make full use of this sizable area, on a daily basis? And what plans do you have in place to insure it’s not just a wasted space?”
“As part of the parking discussion with Wiltshire Council,” Simon continued, “we made that exact point and they have compromised, in that half of the space can be used for non- chargeable parking in the Market Place, which is defined as blue badge holder, motorcycles, taxis, etc. This would allow the moving of the taxi rank, some disabled parking bays and the coach drop off point to create parking spaces in these locations.”
I wanted to point my ambiguity on forming an opinion on this, “Don’t get me wrong Simon, in an ideal world this sounds fantastic, I’d like to see a vibrant market area akin to Camden, but the reality is, we are not in a city, and we do not have the population, or infrastructure to support this every day, surely it’d be best to use some of the space, at least, to ease street parking?”
“What you are suggesting is what we have now,” Simon responded, well, yeah, if it ain’t broke. But Simon thinks otherwise, “and even with free parking in the town centre, retailing is struggling. We have on average under 70% parking occupancy in the town and free parking is not sufficient to bring people from outside Devizes to do their general shopping and therefore in the most part, there has to be another reason. What we do know is that the busiest visitor day in Devizes is Thursday, when there is no parking in the Market Place. Those market town up and down the country, which are striving attracted visitors are focusing on making their towns interesting and vibrant places to visit and I fear if we don’t try, then we will continue on a downward spiral.”
Now, while the latter half of this reply is spot on, try telling me the average is under 70% parking occupancy in the town, when I’ve driven around the centre three times looking for a spot, I double-dare you! I’d wager paid parking has been factored into this statistic, surely? That’s the point of the fury, if people have to pay, they’ll go elsewhere.
“Furthermore,” I put, “this idea was put by Wiltshire Council as a kind of rose-tinted threat during their process of hiking up parking charges, and extending them to Sundays and all night, for the sole reason to make them extra pocket money; rather than celebrate social events they wanted to burden them by making everyone pay to park during them, true?”
“You would need to ask Wiltshire Council that question.”
No way Jose, you can, if you want!
“How ironic then,” I battled on, “that they’d suggest such a community-spirited opportunity, and now, it seems, they cannot handle public outcry, they’ve handed the bag to you. Who will be in control of paid carparks, and who gets the revenue under this new plan?”
I rest my case. “Do you appreciate this sounds like a smokescreen, only to encourage the usage of paid carparks rather than actually bringing the town the opportunity to host community events?” I asked.
“Wiltshire Council were clear about this when the put together their parking strategy,” Simon furthered, “in that they wanted a further £95k from parking in Devizes.”
Greedy buggers, maybe reduce traffic wardens, save some pennies that way.
“I hope I am wrong on that last point,” I suggested, “but it will be the question burning lips! To me, it sounds like a plan, having more faith in DC than WC to deliver the right choices, and I’d like to wish you every success with it. Anything we can do at Devizine to promote and suggest ideas for this “community space,” just ask. In the meantime, I could add a poll, what people might like to see the space used for; I’m sure there will be some shocking yet atypical Devizes-humour responses!”
This time Simon no way Jose’d me, “we are appointing a Town Centre Manager whose job will be to increase the variety of markets and events in the town, working with groups to ensure that there is a lot going on, not only for Devizes residents but also making it an attractive destination of choice for those living in neighbouring towns who are looking for something to do.”
Failure to inform us of the proper and effective method to communicate with The Devizes Council, and put our concerns to them, at the beginning of this response, now revealed reasoning; he hit the nail on the head with this last comment; short answer, they don’t seem to want to hear your opinion, they’re appointing a manger to sort it all out for us; sit back and enjoy your new community space people, everything is done for you. You’ll only need to check your parking ticket’s not overdue, and stuff another tenner in the machine to enjoy said space.
Very conservative approach, wouldn’t you say what-what?
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