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Leave market towns alone

HAVING read all the letters in your edition dated March 7 regarding Devizes Market Place, I would like to give my thoughts on the matter.

I quite agree with Terry Fell and feel that all assets should be given back to the town.

Surely we would then be motivated to go forward with things that help the town to thrive rather than everything financial.

Having attended the consultation on Saturday, March 2 it seems to me that the town council is set on splitting up the Market Place and putting up ugly parking meters in the part that is most picturesque, ie the fountain section.

If they have to make money the section nearest Greggs would hold more cars, therefore earn more money.

However, I do not agree with this. I feel the Market Place should remain as it is, free parking for half an hour.

At the moment it is a very bustling place with vehicles coming and going all of the time, bringing people into our town.

If they like what they see they can always move on to a pay and display for a longer browse.

We often go to Melksham and passing the refurbished Market Place note that not a soul is about. It is completely dead. However much we dislike the car, it brings people to shop, and I would hate Devizes Market Place to become the same as Melksham, a barren empty space.

If the mission is to make money, why not turn any one of our car parks into a small multi-storey car park? All of them could accommodate this.

I remember when Tesco first came to town, they wanted to build one behind the shop but this was not allowed and now look at our plight.

I would also like to point out that parking in Trowbridge is cheaper, with two car parks where you do not have to pay at all, one for three hours, as long as you get a ticket from the machine, and the other multi-storey by the park where you can stay for two hours.

Maybe the powers-that-be in Trowbridge could make more money from our county town and leave the little market towns alone.

S WOOTTON, Via email

VAT hindrance

OUR pubs are under the cosh, as enjoying their hospitality is becoming ever more expensive so that people are going to them less frequently, if at all. Is it any wonder when a pint of beer may typically cost nearly £4 but a bottle from a supermarket can be got for £1.25.

Pubs, of course, have overheads to cover such as rent, rates and electricity. The latter cost is inexorably rising due to having to pay for expensive wind energy. Business rates are way too high and amount to nothing more than legalised theft imposed by the government. They are the principal cause of shops closing.

We like to eat out occasionally at a local hostelry but that’s not particularly cheap either. What people are not told is what other costs we are paying for other than those above and I allude to the fact that the pub or restaurant has to pay 20 per cent VAT on all their provisions including on fresh produce.

While VAT can normally be reclaimed on most supplies, it cannot be reclaimed on fresh produce. That is a massive hit for these premises and it is therefore little wonder that so many are closing. VAT is an EU induced tax.

Once we are out of the EU, and I mean properly out and not tied in by the iniquitous, abominable and devious ‘withdrawal agreement’ presently being debated, the government might just consider scrapping VAT on fresh produce, lowering it or at least making it reclaimable.

At present, publicans find that they are working more for the government than themselves as a result of these taxes.

ROWLAND PANTLING, Broomcroft Road, Pewsey

Closure is myopic

THE Sustrans network of national cycle routes are a fantastic way of keeping fit whilst enjoying our great countryside.

One of the best sections, along the former railway line between Calne and Chippenham, passes through the Marden Valley, an area of exceptional beauty and historic interest.

The site of Stanley Abbey, a major medieval Cistercian foundation, is passed through: its watercourses remain clearly discernible. Much of the route was once part of the medieval Pewsham Forest.

More recent history is represented by the remains of the Calne branch of the Wilts and Berks Canal opened in 1802 and closed following a partial collapse of the Stanley aqueduct in 1901. Our railway heritage is there too.

The Great Western Way tourist route enthusiastically promotes the rich history of this territory. Tourists from all over the world seek to explore our region; the Marden Valley is one of our most attractive gems. We should, of course, be proud of it and celebrate it.

So Wiltshire Council has instead decided to close it. The jewel in our crown is to be taken out, discarded, and thrown in the gutter.

Wiltshire Council’s decision is myopic, ignorant, and philistine.

It shows contempt for the Great West Way project by threatening to remove one of its greatest assets. It spits in the face of a national sustainable transport route and diminishes our history and our culture.

Further, it shows what it really thinks about our efforts to keep fit by exercising. This appalling decision must be opposed.

NICK BAXTER, Northway, Calne

Criminal matter

LOOKING at America and France, whoever is the head of state is very much a political matter, and where heads of state have reigned over malpractice, be it Nixon in America or Milosevic in Serbia, they are prosecutable for their crimes.

It is reported today in the national press that the British air force is responsible for the deaths of in excess of 4,000 innocent civilians in Syria, a situation as serious as the former genocide in Serbia, and therefore should the British head of state be arraigned before the International Criminal Court?

GARETH EVANS, Hardens Close, Chippenham

Eat your hat please

CAN someone please ask the highways boss at Wiltshire Council when people can start throwing things at him? Since the traffic lights were installed traffic is regularly having to queue right out up the dual carriageway past Cannings Hill Garage and right back into town the other way in the morning rush hour.

This occurred relatively rarely when it was just a roundabout (unless there was an incident or roadworks). In another article (https://www.gazetteandherald.co.uk/news/15099717.highways-boss-says-throw-things-at-me-if-london-road-traffic-light-scheme-doesnt-work/) he said he would eat his hat if it did not improve things so perhaps we could see him do that as well? Great move for productivity – make everyone sit in an unnecessary traffic jam for half an hour.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

Just dragged along

IN every newspaper, in every part of the land, there are letters regarding the referendum on Brexit.

Letters from people concerned for their future once we leave the European Union. Even the government seems in a dilemma.

It brought to mind something my grandmother said many years ago: “This country must not join the Common Market. If we do we would eventually become as toads under harrows, dragged along, powerless, with no control.”

My grandmother was a farmer, hence her quaint vision for the people of Britain.

R A SPENCER, Potterne Wick, Devizes

Climb for cancer

BOWEL Cancer UK is encouraging hikers to get sponsored to climb South Wales’ highest peak, Pen Y Fan, on July 13. Their support will help stop people dying of bowel cancer by funding vital services and life saving research.

Experience the thrill of hiking 886m up Pen Y Fan to reach the summit at 5am as the sun rises over breathtaking views of the Brecon Beacons. Not for the faint-hearted, this popular nine kilometre route will take hikers through rocky paths and some exhilarating scrambling to reach the summit.

Join us on this unforgettable Sunrise Trek Challenge and together we’ll experience stunning views at the top of the summit and a spine-tingling atmosphere. Your support will help us to achieve a future where nobody dies from bowel cancer. Sign up today and receive a free fundraising pack and a Bowel Cancer UK t-shirt: bowelcanceruk.org.uk/sunrisetrek

MICHAEL LOCKE, Fundraising, Bowel Cancer

High street is alive

I FOR one welcome Devizes Town Council’s recent U-turn over its deeply unpopular, and potentially damaging, plans to remove the current flexibility provided by the Market Place.

All residents and businesses have asked for during this campaign was the chance to be listened to and their concerns properly addressed.

Now that has finally happened it should be seen as a huge victory for those in our community who stood up and said “this isn’t good enough”. Special mention should also go to the ‘Devizes Three’; Councillors Stevens, Parsons, and Greenwood, who took a courageous stand on an important point of principle for the community.

However, having read virtually every article, opinion piece, and social media post, about this issue in the last couple of months there is a serious point I would like to address.

Throughout this process many councillors and council officers have openly claimed that “the high street is dying” or “in ten years all the shops will be gone”. This is simply not true and not only that, it is potentially damaging to those independent traders who form the very heart of our community.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, retail spending on the UK’s high streets rose last year with no signs that it is going to fall anytime soon.

Spending with small or medium retail businesses, of which Devizes has many, grew by 5.2 per cent. Even adjusting for inflation, this means businesses like those in our town, grew by at least 3.2 per cent which is phenomenal given the current uncertainty facing businesses in the UK.

What’s more, our town maintains a shop vacancy rate of around two per cent against a national average of 12.5 per cent, with the council’s own benchmarking report from 2017 (the last available) showing that 75 per cent of our town centre businesses are over ten years old against a national average of just 58 per cent.

Yes, the UK high street is changing, and big businesses are suffering, but small independents like those in Devizes continue to thrive. The very thing which many have complained about over the years, the lack of big high street names, means our town is in the perfect place to take advantage of the changes to how we all shop and use our town centres.

Both Wiltshire councillors, and Devizes town councillors need to take this into account when talking about retail and ensure they don’t do us down unintentionally.

I would urge everyone to take a look behind the national headlines of retail woe and Wiltshire Federation of Small Businesses would be more than happy to help educate and advise our local government representatives on this point.

IAIN WALLIS, South West of England Policy lead, Federation of Small Businesses

No to empty space

THE furore over the issue of parking in Devizes Market Place is like a microcosm of the Brexit fiasco.

On the one hand we have WC, that remote inconvenience confined to the western fringe of the county such that it could almost be mistaken for a part of Somerset, but which is content to filch the surpluses of the former district councils like Kennet, to flog off their property portfolio and to impose ludicrous terms over the use of the Market Place, which latter would guarantee the arrival of tumbleweed therein within a year or two.

On the other hand, we have a collection of town councillors who have taken on board the ravings of Philip Whitehead - of the aforementioned WC - about imposing a European-style ‘café culture’ on the Market Place.

Let us remember that the European café culture is not about drinking just coffee, it is about meeting people and drinking anything and everything, generally while relaxing under unrelenting sunny skies and shady plane trees, with leaves gently rustling in a light zephyr.

A couple of things about that scenario don’t quite work in Devizes: 1. We are not allowed to drink alcohol in the open in the Market Place and 2. It is always windy, often accompanied by driving rain. The absence of parked cars in that environment would mean no windbreaks or shelter for fleeing coffee drinkers and, with only half an hour to park, it would hardly be a relaxed drink anyway, especially if that parking was half way across town from the Market Place.

The revised offering from the town council talks about mixed use. We already have mixed use: it exists within a flexible open space rather than one divided into little pockets of single prescribed use.

Some days there are events which take up some or all of the space, on other days there is parking - often accompanied by queueing cars. This new proposal would hardly satisfy the aim of WC to kill Devizes while fleecing us for parking, because there won’t be any significant parking going on. There is no need to waste thousands re-jigging the place using money that could be spent on proper road maintenance.

With their original proposal, WC would no doubt have been installing machines which don’t give change, which have escalating charges and with non-transferable tickets tied to a registration number.

These three features are designed to steal money from citizens, which could add up to a multiple of the total charge for each space at full occupancy per day.

Compare this attitude with that of Shropshire CC which has, countywide, adopted linear charging at an hourly rate which reflects the demand at each parking area; which is not artificially limited or with minimum return periods; and which, although not specifically encouraged, does not prohibit the handing over to another user any unused time on a ticket. No change is given but all funds inserted above a minimum charge of one hour’s parking are credited on the ticket. Now that is an ethical parking policy.

I don’t want to see parking charges in the Market Place but better that than a windswept empty space. Café culture doesn’t work without alcohol or sunshine and there just aren’t that many worthwhile events to fill two thirds of the area all year round.

However, WC’s agenda is really about destroying the weekly market and other traditional events by making them unaffordable: countercharging for ‘loss of income’ when the parking is not available. For that reason charging should be resisted.

BRIAN W SMITH, Devizes

Rethink funds cut

SOME eight or nine years ago, along with its policy entitled ‘Help to Live at Home’, Wiltshire Council introduced a policy for concentrating homes for those with dementia and in need of extra care in key towns around the county. Devizes was one of those nominated.

The town now hosts more than nine homes offering this protection and, around them, a support network of day clubs and other help has grown.

Now, in a very arbitrary fashion, Wiltshire Council has withdrawn its funding, threatening the reduction in service, if not total loss of these facilities.

The blandishment that there are many other organisations who provide grants pays scant regard to the resources and expertise needed to frame the relevant applications and, I fear, Community Area Boards are too ill-financed to provide the necessary replacement resources.

I ask Wiltshire Council to reconsider this decision, given that the fallout from service reduction or closure of these institutions is likely to promote a greater call on the very frontline services that the council is seeking to protect.

NIGEL CARTER, Devizes

Cuts hit vulnerable

YET again it can be seen how uncaring Wiltshire Council and the senior managers are.

More cuts have been announced that will affect those most vulnerable.

Already we have seen the adult centres closed, which had a devastating effect on all those who attended. Now there are going to be more cuts to the day centres and clubs that are always well used by disabled adults, all in the name of saving money.

Yet Wiltshire Council is going on regardless with its plans to close two schools for children with learning difficulties and spend £20 million on having one centre far away from the general public.

It’s about time that Wiltshire Council and the senior managers started to live within their means.

I note that no councillors or managers will be affected by these cutbacks, only the tax paying public.

No doubt over the next few weeks we will be subject to the well-rehearsed meaningless rhetoric that we always get from the council.

TONY FELLENOR, Farleigh Close, Chippenham

Be vigilant on knives

THIS week we are pleased to be joining 44 other police forces from across the country as part of the national knife crime week of action and awareness campaign, Operation Sceptre.

Over the last year we have all watched with horror as the number of incidents of knife crime across the county have risen, with offences involving a knife or sharp instrument rising nationally by eight per cent.

I am pleased to say that Wiltshire continues to be one of the safest places in the country to live, and I am happy to tell you that we are not following the same trend when it comes to knife crime – we even saw a decrease of 18 per cent from September 2017 to September 2018.

We are committed to robustly tackling knife crime, and I hope the message will be received loud and clear when I say that using a knife or sharp instrument to threaten or harm someone will not be tolerated in our county.

If you are caught with a knife in a public place and do not have a lawful reason for having it, you will be arrested. You could receive a sentence of up to four years for just carrying a knife or, if you are involved in an incident where a knife is used, the prison sentence could be much longer.

It is easy to say knife crime is a police problem. But it is not as straightforward as that. Tackling knife crime is a police priority but it is a community problem. One that we can only solve by parents, schools, the NHS and our communities working together.

As part of this community, I need to be able to count on you to support us in this fight against knife crime.

I know that most people don’t carry a knife and would never use a knife to hurt someone else.

But as a police officer, member of our community and a parent myself to three young children, I will not be complacent in my approach or my ambition to remove knife crime from our county.

This week as part of Op Sceptre, you will be reminded about what you can do to tackle knife crime, steps that may seem small but could make a huge difference.

Check your child’s bags, know what’s in your knife drawer, and have a conversation with your child about the very serious consequences of carrying a knife.

You may think these actions are a little extreme and don’t apply to you and your family.

However, if we are going to tackle knife crime, it is an approach we all need to take. Criminalising young people is never something we want to do but if your child sets off to school this morning with a knife in their bag, they are at risk.

By taking action and by talking about the subject we can raise awareness and educate our communities about the risks and consequences of knife crime.

Knife crime can have a devastating impact on a community, a family and an individual – let’s work together to stop it and protect lives.

GAVIN WILLIAMS, Assistant Chief Constable, Wiltshire Police

I will pass baton

I VOTED to leave the EU at the referendum. My reason was that I wanted the UK government to be accountable for running the country. I wanted to be able to hold those responsible for the goods and ills of society, accountable for their failures and successes, not be dictated to by a ‘higher’ authority with their own agenda who I could not vote out.

Some might call this sovereignty, some might call it democracy, but I see it plainly as being able to change the decision makers if they make decisions I disagree with.

Since then I have seen people like me called many things.

I took the decision to vote as I did, regardless of the fact that I might be one of those to suffer badly. A few years away from retirement, I knew that any pension I might hope for could be hugely affected. I knew the value of my home might collapse, that any health requirements I might need through advancing years might be jeopardised. Would I lose my job at a crucial time in my career? Would my savings be reduced to worthless?

Despite this, I felt the price I might pay would reap benefits in the future, perhaps more for others than for me.

Because I was absolutely confident that this country could grasp the future, empowered to make our own decisions and to be able to hold those who lead us accountable for their actions. Yes, there would be a period of instability, but now almost three years later I expected progress would have been made towards those goals.

Instead, the debate goes on, the name calling continues and the polarised groups both feel they are right to demand opposing things. And so they both should be able. Now that IS democracy.

Some say the groundswell is such that more people now want to stay in the EU than those who voted to leave. That another referendum would return a different result. With March 29 approaching, it appears we may be close to a resolution, and I’d like to make one observation.

If through whatever means, the UK does not leave the EU, I shall pass the baton to those who will have successfully campaigned to achieve this.

Because this group tell me they know best, that I am ignorant, and that my referendum vote counts for less than theirs. Disaster will have been averted.

I will then sit back, never to put a cross in a box again, safe that the knowledgeable ones will steer the UK ship to a golden future.

Apparently I either get what I voted for, or I get something that must be even better. Or am I being naive again?

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

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