9b. Transport(November 20, 2009)
Throughout all these phases of our modern industrial development the issue of transport has been Warminster’s Achilles heel.
No stage coaches of note, no canal, no motorway, a branch line railway and in the A36, a trunk road that fails to live up to its billing, have all meant that Warminster has always had to fight an uphill struggle to attract enterprise because of its relatively poor communications.
We cannot undo the past but what we must do is make best use of the assets and attributes that we have at present – and clearly we are not doing this.
We need to make significant changes to transport to allow us cope with the changing needs of the economy, society and demography.
We need to campaign for better services especially in the early morning and ideally provide a direct early morning link with the capital that gets into Waterloo before 8.15pm. The existing so-called direct service is poorly timed, except for tourists, and is not really direct as it simply waits at Salisbury until the up train from Exeter arrives and latches together with it.
It means the service is hardly any better than one that involves a change. This wasn’t the case when the direct service was first introduced as it didn’t even stop in Salisbury.
It is no surprise that our local MP, who used to live in Warminster, moved to Mere to be within striking distance of the direct Waterloo to Gillingham service.
We also need to pressure First Great Western to up its game and restore some of the evening commuting services that were withdrawn when they replaced the somewhat superior Wessex Trains.
There’s also the question of first class travel. When the current class of ‘smartie tube’ type trains took over from the old locomotive hauled services in 1991 it meant the end of first class rail travel through Warminster.
Its removal has meant that people used to this class of travel, or at least a serious proportion of them, no longer travel on trains through Warminster. That can’t be a good thing as very often these first class travellers are influential people and you should want them to have as much contact with your town as possible.
We also need to press for a better service linking Warminster to Swindon via Melksham and Chippenham. The lines are there so why not use them more than twice a day?
Buses & Coaches
Buses present a mixed picture. Over the past generation there has been a huge change in bus usage with some positive steps and others less so.
On the positive side there is a significantly better service around the town than in the past although some of the buses are fairly basic and cannot accept wheelchairs. This will no doubt improve over time as bus providers struggle to cope with disability rights legislation. We should perhaps offer to help in some small way. We should also improve the lot of those who wait for buses on the estates by installing more bus shelters.
We don’t want to see bus services withdrawn.
Sadly this is what happened last year when Wilts and Dorset, a company with a history dating back to 1915 and which had run buses from Warminster to Salisbury since the mid 1920s pulled out of the town.
They were running state of the art Mercedes buses and their withdrawal was bad news – it also meant that Warminster was cut off from the Wilts and Dorset busabout ticket network.
The over 60s, of course, enjoy their free bus passes but we feel these should be useable before 9am especially for those who might want to use them to get to work.
We also feel there is scope for better integration between the buses and the train station. Pictured: Warminster's last ever Wilts and Dorset bus.
We should do everything we can to ensure motorists are enticed into town and one of the best ways is providing free parking and letting people know it is free.
Until the late 1990s Warminster had enjoyed free parking and has never really recovered from the introduction of parking charges.
To its credit the town council realises this and has tried its best to secure a sensible solution but, for the privilege of two hours’ free parking in a couple of areas, it has to pay the modern equivalent of a Danegeld to the district council to help secure this small concession.
The district argues that it costs tens of thousands to run a car park ‘There’s no such thing as a free parking’ the proponents of parking charges would parrot during the discussions about the original proposals.
This is utter rubbish as the so called cost is in fact a share of the general cost of running the district council which are loaded onto the cark parks through what is known in the local government trade as ‘recharges between departments’.
But does it even raise revenue in Warminster?
In Salisbury parking charges are a big earner and as a major shopping centre with a gravitational pull of 30 miles the city quite rightly has charges.
But should Warminster with its struggling shops and lowly paid workforce be forced to shell out to park all day? Does it raise revenue? Can a motorist in a rural area like ours sensibly and safely give up the car? Of course not. A policy designed for Swindon and Salisbury should not be used in Warminster.
Empty car parks
Visit the car park nearest to the Avenue School and you’ll be lucky to see more than a dozen cars paying to park - probably too few even to pay the £7,000 annual cost of running the ticket machines.
Others would argue that free parking flies in the face of the national sustainability agenda and would not be allowed. That to is rubbish as the Government is also committed to maintaining the vitality and viability of market towns and free parking is one of the best ways of doing this.
How can this be achieved ?
It is quite simple. All that needs to be done is to transfer the ownership of the car parks to the town councils with a covenant that they can only be used for car parking.
The precedent for this has already happened in Wiltshire.
Two years ago Kennet District Council transferred the ownership of Ludgershall car park and toilets over to its town council for free. It now maintains the car park at minimal cost and there are no charges.
It should happen under the unitary council in Warminster.
In the 1990s when the charges were coming in, the then leader of Wiltshire County Council, businessman Peter Chalke, was contacted by us to protest at the transfer of the Warminster library parking spaces to the district council in order for charges to be levied.
While he was sympathetic regarding the impact charges would have on business he said that the ‘county was not in the business of running car parks’.
If car parks are such a pain and expensive burden then pass them on to the town council to run more efficiently.
We also have ideas about traffic management in the
town centre but feel that the system needs to settle down following the
town centre changes (which will constrict the carriageways and slow
traffic movement) before a sensible discussion can take place. We note
however that there are calls for some streets to be made one-way and
that there could be some merit in this, particularly for East Street.