The following statement was received from the Wantage Chamber of Commerce on 17 November 2020
Like high streets across the country, many local Wantage Independent businesses are already on their knees due to Covid and the rise of online shopping. The last thing they now need is a reduction of parking in the town which will lead to a substantial decrease in visitors and footfall.
The current Wantage Town Council have long wanted to pedestrianise Wantage and to remove over 30 car parking spaces. Under the guise of Covid, they have recently carried out a public survey, asking local residents if they think that temporarily closing one half of the town would increase the space for social distancing. This additional space is of course not really required and by the time these restrictions are implemented there are strong reasons to believe that there will be no necessity to distance in any case. Retailers and other local businesses fear that the Council will attempt to use the results of this flawed consultation as justification to spend £millions on a vanity project to pedestrianise the town and remove parking for ever.
Wantage and District Chamber of Commerce has carried out its own survey asking residents from Wantage and the surrounding villages how they would react to the reduction of parking in the town which is already stretched to the limit.
The results are stark and bear out the fears of the local business. 76% of the 470 respondents stated that they used a car to access the shops as a majority of shoppers travel in from the outskirts of the town, new developments and the surrounding villages, so need easy parking to access the shops and services in Wantage.
70% of all respondents stated that ease of parking was a major factor in deciding where to shop, and 62% stated that if the parking was removed they would travel a little further to nearby towns with plenty of parking and a wider selection of shops such as Newbury or Didcot.
“Local businesses are deeply concerned about these results and the potential devastation of the local economy,” Richard Shepherd, Vice Chairman of the Wantage and District Chamber of Commerce and a local business owner commented. “We all support the objectives of a greener town, and understand the perceived ideal of a pedestrianised zone with cycling and outdoor culture (for a couple of warm months a year) but this cannot be at the expense of local businesses that rely on visitors or there will be no town to visit.”
The Chamber is calling for the current lack of parking in Wantage to be properly addressed, possibly with a multi-storey car park in the vicinity before any scheme which dramatically reduces available parking is even considered. Despite all best efforts by local businesses to survive, this pedestrianisation scheme could be the death knell of many independent shops, national stores, and the entertainment sector.
Wantage Town Council is expected to respond to this: if so, a statement will appear on its website in due course.