This is a Salisbury-centric blog, stop reading now if you’ve never been there or are uninterested in planning/community/local politics
(you have been warned;0)
My home town of Salisbury is suffering from decline, this is not an unfamiliar story given the current economic state. However all is not well with plans to re-invigourate our City…oh hang on…. let’s be honest… yes we have a Cathedral but Salisbury is essentially a market town. There are plans to re-vision Salisbury which include changes to our market square which is at the heart of the city and surprisingly what has stirred the emotions most, are plans to remove the existing London Plane trees which due to lack of pollarding have grown too tall and whose roots have undermined the new surface laid to mark the Millenium at some expense just 11 years ago.
On all sides it is hard to get to the facts of the matter, rumour and myth have been rife, fuelled by, I suspect, a lack of trust in those in power and a belief that the voice of the people is no longer heard. For instance,some years ago the local council signed on the dotted line to instigate a very big budget building project to redesign their offices hours before it was announced we were to become a unitary authority and that the centre of governance was to be moved across the county to Trowbridge and in spite of massive opposition by local people. The completed building cannot now accommodate all its staff who are not only hot desking but having to work from home – so perhaps it’s no wonder that more changes to the City are viewed with suspicion by its residents.
When you enter Salisbury you will be met by large signs proclaiming it to be a medieval city, sadly some rather shocking development in the sixties and seventies makes it really hard to appreciate this fact. What you see when you enter from the London or Southampton routes into the City are car dealerships, giant supermarkets, unattractive out of town retail units lining these entry points and sprawling urban development. Once you reach the Cathedral Close it does become much clearer as development here has been fiercely controlled by the Church. Our city fathers haven’t managed quite so well elsewhere – there’s a lot of concrete about, one of the most un-environmental materials to be created for the purposes of building. Someone, I cant remember who (maybe that Grand Designs fella) once said “Concrete – it’s commonly used, it’s cheap and it looks it”.
A place needs to be vibrant, it needs spaces not clutter and it has to consider not only the needs of residents both young and old but also the people who feed its economy. We know how empty shops and lack of trade can make a Town or City seem drab and off-putting to tourists and visitors who want to enjoy the cafe culture after their historic tours and museum trips to discuss what they’ve seen, learnt or feel or maybe just want to do some shopping and buy local produce and products.
Ultimately a place needs to be accessible. It’s no secret that there is a drive to rid the city of cars and vehicles by introducing a park and ride scheme raising parking costs and employing an army of traffic wardens to work in shifts from 8am to 8pm targeting visitors and residents alike, who fall foul (and sadly it is very easy to do so) of parking regulations to the point where people feel criminalised and live in fear of not having change or running over time or who like me just don’t bother – I don’t see my Doctor or Dentist unless I’m in agony, there is no pleasure in shopping or meeting a friend for a coffee because all the time I’m worried about getting a ticket. Parking fines are a very lucrative business for the council. I’d rather travel to a city or town where parking is reasonable or free, their machines offer change, and if I’m a minute late or I haven’t seen a sign saying its residents parking only (because branches of a tree obscure it or it’s so small you’d have to be looking really hard), the traffic warden is friendly and human and not trying to gain points or commission or achieve their target quota. Fantasy? Possibly.
So whilst I understand some peoples concern about plans to re-design parts of Salisbury and sympathise with campaigners who don’t want to see trees chopped down unnecessarily or rashly. I am mostly concerned about the future – if we phase out the car from the equation and yet don’t plan in the building of schools and shops, community halls and proper park/play and bus provision in new housing development in our sprawling suburbs will it be the death knell for local businesses and traders? Will the only ones left in the game be large department stores, supermarkets and online providers so that eventually all towns and cities will look and feel the same and these giants of commerce will have more say over planning than councillors and residents – “money talks or money walks” as they say.
In getting stuck over trees are we missing the bigger picture? How do you keep a City/Town vibrant and a place where people want to be as opposed to a place where people avoid? If you rebuild and re-design will the Friday/Saturday night drinkers and clubbers stop vomiting on the streets and leaving their take-away rubbish wherever they go? How do we all work together to ensure a healthy, welcoming future for our City? and perhaps most importantly – does anyone have a time machine so we can benefit from hindsight just for once and leap forward five, maybe ten years time…? No of course not. In the meantime we need to consider very carefully the long term impact of changes to both policies and planning initiatives.
Me? I’m happy for there to be less trees in the Market Square and to see more planted elsewhere within the city – I’d like to be able to see the architecture of the buildings around the square – the twice weekly market were it to go, would be very much missed. The Salisbury Charter Market is a part of our culture and our heritage as much as trees are vital to our wellbeing and our environment but most of all I’d like to be able to park within the city without fear of being ticketed just because I’m human and imperfect. Make the park and ride free for a year or ridiculously cheap, make the bus service available to anyone who arrives at the stop whether they’ve parked there or not. Woo me, don’t punish me Wiltshire Council – risk a loss to make a larger long-term gain – my goodwill and my trust.