DEVIZES Market Place could become a car-free zone after Wiltshire Council's finance boss Philip Whitehead made the unexpected offer at a meeting on Tuesday evening.

Scores of people packed a Devizes Town Council meeting to discuss plans by Wiltshire Council to bring in parking charges in the historic Market Place. But Cllr Whitehead surprised councillors and members of the public when he suddenly said that Wiltshire would not be against banning vehicles from the central square and allowing it to be used for events, cafe tables and a place to sit out.

He said: "We want to work with you. It annoys me that this beautiful square is full of cars and is only used as a market once a week. If we could look at not having parking in the Market Place then Wiltshire Council would be amenable to that."

He had earlier told the meeting that the extra revenue that would be gained by introducing parking charges of 70p for an hour and £1.30 for two hours in the Market Place were essential to Wiltshire Council to help it balance its deficit.

But he later said that he believed that if the Market Place was not used for parking the council would still gain the same amount of money as people would use other car parks.

Town councillor Andy Geddes, who was chairing the meeting, asked members of the public to raise their hands if they thought ridding the Market Place of cars was a good idea and around 70 per cent voted in favour.

Mayor Nigel Carter told Cllr Whitehead at the start of the meeting that the town council was disappointed that its robust response to the plan to introduce parking charges in the Market Place had not met with a response. He said: "It was a missed opportunity for a detailed discussion."

He warned that the proposal would hit traders, who were already walking a financial tightrope, and wanted to know if the future of the Thursday market could be put in jeopardy and expressed fears about the Christmas light switch-on if organisers had to pay for space in the Market Place.

But Cllr Whitehead said there was still time for discussion as a statutory consultation would have to take place.

Cllr Carter said: "We welcome the opportunity for more debate and the idea for a plaza is an interesting one but we have to weigh it up against the needs of the business community."