“I work with a lot of politicians, I talk to a lot of people on county level, at national level, and I have never come across resistance like I get from the Devizes Town Council. We go into meetings and people listen, even if they don’t agree, and we come out of it with some sort of way forward. The Town Council have simply said, ‘we’re not going to work with you,’ and completely closed the door on us. I mean, I am a pain in the backside, and a stubborn person, and that’s probably why they think I’m the devil.”
In order to play devil’s advocate to this parking in Market Place fiasco, I am having a nice cup of tea, in his shop, with a teddy bear hospital shelf, where each bear is given a bed, and a biscuit while awaiting medical attention. I ask you, what kind of demon owns such a shop?! The guy is like a big teddy himself, but local businessman, renowned for kicking up a stink, Iain Wallis, is still discontent with the way the issue is being dealt with.
As an events and entertainment guide, I favour to leave local politics to the local rag, yet the acquisition of certain town control passed from Wiltshire Council to Devizes Town Council has been delivered on an ultimatum of ending free carparking in the Market Place, now a sad reality. Proposed the area could become a lively event space, and as we stand to promote and encourage events, I confess I warmed to the idea, but not as a persuasive blanket, built on a farcical ploy. We all know, the Market Place has already been used for such, with great effect and when there is no event it functions as a carpark. The notion, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, springs to mind, as the community of Devizes rally akin to its own little Brexit.
With this in mind, I’m keen to hear how the subject is progressing, if at all and who better to chat to then Iain, who has not only been chief activist, but built an independent campaign for a seat on the council around the cause? Firstly though, after a tour of teddy heaven, I pondered the type of clientele Moonraker Bears attracts, surely, they wouldn’t mind paying 70p to park?
“Exactly,” Iain expressed, “The problem our customers have is slightly different. It’s finding somewhere to park for long enough. Like our teddy workshops, many of them will come to sew a bear, and they need three or four hours, most parking is three hours maximum.” But he explained the issue is not directly for his customers, “for me, if people aren’t coming into town, they won’t discover we are here. So, the issue doesn’t affect my business as much as it does for others. It’s about the whole town being one entity, a community.”
So, where are we at the moment with the issue, what’s the current update?
“Difficult to answer, because they’re not really talking to us at the moment. Where we are; we have saved parking in the market place, after they were going to take it away permanently. Wiltshire Council had to change their mind, and led on that, really, despite town council taking credit. So, despite the machine not working, we saved some parking.” Indeed, it now costs 70p per hour, with a maximum stay of two, but tickets can only be gained via mobile phone, causing a stir, alongside the position of the machine by the Market Cross. I have to wonder if it’s placing is strategic; look at what happens if you don’t pay your share, you’ll end up like Ruth Pierce and the wrath of god will strike ye down!
“It’s a temporary machine,” he clarified, “it can be moved when a final design is decided. I feel that’s a little optimistic, because the information we have is even when a final design is put forward, it’s not going to happen for 12 to 18 months. What’s happened now, is the Town Council called a consultation, and take heed of each focus group. All the information has been published on the Town Council website; out of it a group of councillors came up with the two designs. We asked if we could be part of that process, but it was refused. So, we gave them time to come up with the plans.” As far as Iain is concerned, only one option is feasible, the second concerns the needed service road. “Everyone asked said, keep (the pedestrianised area) as small as possible,” as like we said, it isn’t broken.
This has happened to Melksham, the event area lays dormant, but while they have some greater amenities, and it’s only 40p to park, but face it, not as bustling or as charming as Devizes town centre. Sure, a lively space akin to Camden Market I’d welcome here, if it could be so. Yet, with this in mind, we need to be encouraging visitors, and thinking of creating more, and cheaper parking spaces, not reducing them, surely?
“Absolutely,” hail, Mr Wallis and I agree! “I think what both councils are not considering is that we have two distinct visitors using parking. Residents who live in the villages, who’s needs are to get in quick, do a few jobs and leave; they don’t want to pay, as they’re staying an hour, they live here so feel some ownership, pay their council tax to provide such services. Then you have the visitors, who, as you said, if you visit a town you don’t mind paying for convivence. What we seem to be forgetting about are the residents; we need to provide short-term parking for them, but at the same time, encouraging visitors to stay longer. This thing of having short-term carparks is crazy, we need all options.”
Iain thought signage for carparks is poor, and visitors find it difficult to find them, like Station Road. But the whole issue is beyond parking for Iain, “it’s about councils listening to the people who know what they’re talking about, those running businesses and using the town.” The origin of the word ‘text’ to connote a body of words stems from textiles. Weavers sat outside their houses because their material was too large to operate on inside, would hear the word on street and politicians would take notes from them, to incorporate into policies. They were the hairdressers and taxi drivers of their era! Yet, has this ancient tradition escaped our town council?
“The way this all started, we all got around the table,” Iain added, “we were all saying this, and we were sort of being listened to. Then, all of a sudden, it was all closed doors, because the asset transfer had come up. They did this without any reference to anybody, and said we’ve done it for the best interest of the town. I have no doubt the vast majority who stand for the town council, do so with good intentions, they want to do the right thing for the town, but they don’t see the other option. The option is to get the town onboard with them, and if WC are causing the problem, we can help them change it.” Convinced they cannot do it alone, Iain expressed he doesn’t know why, but is certain it ends with Devizes losing out, “for not having effective representation at Wiltshire level.”
“We talked to the people of the town,” he told, “they said we need as much parking as possible. Would love it to be free, but actually, the fact it’s there is most important.” On the origins of the fiasco, to provide an event space, Iain could see no reason to remove those parking spaces. Wiltshire council were saying they wanted to charge £1,500 a day for the suspension of parking, despite it being free at the time. “But since the people stood up and said, ‘we don’t like this,’ WC came up with a better deal, Devizes Town Council will own the space, we operate the parking, but any day you want it for special events it will be free of charge. That’s fantastic, and now we have that, it supports things like the Full Tone Festival, which went brilliantly. That can now happen as much as possible, and if so, it happens more, and at the point there is something happening each weekend, that’s the point where we could say we do want to pedestrianize some of this space.”
The only argument I’ve really seen positive light on regarding the issue is the environmental angle, but while Iain agreed, observed it’d only move the problem, and lobbying to provide the area with better equipped recharging points, and availability for next generation vehicles is better, but another issue.
Herein lies our task, and why the issue involves Devizine, as we aim to promote and encourage events in our town. So, I finish by asking Iain if he feels the issue is akin to our own little Brexit! “I feel there’s a lot of parallels there! Similar is that it’s a problem of their own devising. We don’t have to have any changes to the market place.” Personally, he is up for making the area look as nice as it can be, but expresses the costing of the changes, and concerns himself that the Town Council haven’t costed the alterations effectually.
“We never campaigned for free parking,” Iain said, “only for fair parking.” Waffling on about the cost to councils for providing free parking on business rates.” Whatever, all I know is if it’s 40p in the Sham, but 70p here, people will shop elsewhere, and how can this move possibly be in the best interest to the town?
The fight continues, I proposed to Iain if he feels it will get to the drastic stage of organising a protest. “I prefer to be collaborative, but it’s interesting to look at the fact the change came, the council doing a U-turn, came after a lot of the public attended the meetings. So, it may have to come to that, or a vote of no-confidence in the Council. I think it’s a last resort, but are we not getting to that last resort?”
I’ll let you decide, I’ve ironically near overstayed my parking limit, but thank Iain for his lengthy opinions on this pressing issue and the tour of his wonderful teddy bear shop!
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