Parking and pedestrianisation in Wantage

Introducing pedestrianised areas in town centres is always a tricky and emotive business and Wantage is no exception. The interests of residents, shoppers, retailers, delivery companies, cyclists and the emergency services are rarely aligned. Even the environmental goal of encouraging less car travel may not be met if people still drive into town but park elsewhere. Assuming, of course, that they can find anywhere: recent changes to parking conditions and enforcement (see below), continuing residential development and no easy place to install a multi-storey parking mean that parking is, and is likely to remain, a potent and emotive issue in and around the town.

The pedestrianisation of the western end of the Market Place (in front of Marmalade Cafe and the Dolphin Gallery) was, as we reported on 16 June 2022, introduced as an experiment in 2021 and a consultation by Oxfordshire CC is being considered to see if it should be continued beyond June 2023. It’s currently unclear when the results of this survey will be announced.

Wantage Town Council and Vale of the White Horse District Council both currently have Lib Dem majorities and it has historically been the party’s aspiration to pedestrianise the town centre (as it is in Newbury). But there seem to be neither any current plans nor any particular community appetite to go beyond the current pedestrianisation.

Wantage pedestrian west end
Pedestrianisation of the western end of the marketplace.

It is laudable to encourage people to walk or cycle into town and reduce their number of car journeys but the reality is that many people go into towns to shop and a car makes taking your shopping home a lot easier. This would also require an improvement in local bus services far in excess of what appears likely. Although it seems that the number of market centre spaces have only been reduced slightly to make way for two dedicated disabled parking bays, many people remain concerned. In these difficult times, retailers are understandably sensitive to any possible changes that might disadvantage them.

Another issue which has recently emerged is that people have got used to parking for free and are now upset that they have to pay. 

This applies in areas where parking charges are beginning to be enforced (as a result of this now being the responsibility of Oxfordshire County Council rather than the Police) and also where free parking time has been reduced (such as the two-hour to one-hour free parking reduction in the District-run carparks at Limborough Road Mill Street and Portway Car Park at The Beacon).

This is impacting shopkeepers whose customers no longer have time to browse. One retailer we spoke to said she would be happy to reimburse her customers for their parking charges. Maybe the District could introduce the system that West Berkshire used several years ago where a receipt is added to parking tickets and customers can take their receipts into a shop for reimbursement.

Another scheme that we hear works well in other towns is where you can rent a driveway from resident who lives close to the town centre. For instance on the JustPark app you can find a driveway to rent for £5.90 for 10 hours. This is cheaper than the Beacon car park and you will be guaranteed your spot. This might be a solution for those who drive to work in the town centre who currently are competing with their customers for parking spaces. It is, of course, also a way for residents to earn money from their driveways. But first worth reading some dos and don’t recommended by drivewayexpert.co.uk.

As mentioned above, better bus services would also help. This is, however a big ask in cash-strapped times and for a town which is surrounded by small and dispersed villages. Some of these are not even in the Vale or Oxfordshire, so complicating any funding considerations.

Communication is also key. It’s to be hoped that Oxfordshire CC, the Vale, Wantage TC, Grove PC, Wantage Chamber of Commerce, the Wantage & Grove Campaign Group and any other groups which represent residents and retailers are in regular contact about their respective concerns, aspirations and restrictions. A solution that pleases everyone is probably impossible: what is more achievable, however, is a compromise which can be seen to have taken everyone’s views into account, even it it’s unable to satisfy them all.

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