The new Symn Lane car park
– the facts and why the Chamber is behind the scheme

Plans for the development discussed here are now available on the Stroud District Council's (SDC) website - Application No: S.17/2307FUL

Below we aim to present a concise and accurate overview of the main issues involved. Despite being fully in support of the scheme we have tried to be unbiased in our answers: trying to present the actual facts without the distortion of local hearsay, speculation and emotion.

The Chamber is not telling you what to think when considering your opinions but what we do implore is that if you are in favour of the scheme and what it is trying to achieve then please visit the SDC’s website before 2nd February to register your support.

If you have any unanswered questions or you don’t agree with any of the answers we have given to the questions then please contact your President Alex Wilkinson via the normal way (details on this website). We will then try to update the Qs & As on a regular basis – again in the quest to give everyone the TRUE facts about the scheme.

 

1) Why do we need a new car park?

Over the years several assessments of Wotton’s parking have been carried out: a Wotton Town Council Car Parking Working Party has been meeting for more than two years; two Wotton Community Plans have been published (http://wotton-under-edge.com/community/community-plan/); a Stroud District Council Car Park Review was compiled in 2011 and, most importantly of all, an independent survey was carried out this year by the Wotton’s Town Council (see http://wotton-under-edge.com/wotton-car-parking-survey-results/)

All have agreed that there has been a shortage of car parking space for many years which has in turn affected the number of shoppers and tourists visiting the town and therefore its traders.

Although not documented this has been reported time and time again as being a reason for visitors going to shop in places like Yate and Thornbury where ample free parking is to be found. Many of the businesses in town comment on the fact that potential customers have been lost simply for the lack of somewhere to park.

Make no mistake. This is a fight for survival; we don’t want to become like some other towns in the area.

Wotton has to evolve: to move with the times or it will get left behind suffering a long, lingering death from its traders going out of business through a lack of customers. Some have already done so – and that is a fact. We have to try to reduce the urge for people to go to the big supermarkets or to shop online for everything they need. Wotton’s character is in its small, independent shops and we need to fight to keep it that way.

Evening functions held at Under the Edge Arts, performances at the cinema, guests staying at the Swan Hotel and general events being held in the town often clash with the requirements of those parking overnight to the point where every space in the Chipping and surrounding roads are taken.

Peak time parking severely overstretches the town’s capabilities. It is not realistic to say that people should therefore park outside those times. By definition, peak time means when most people need to park: for whatever reason.  Doctor and dentist appointments can be difficult enough to obtain without the added stress of not being able to park. That is what we need to be able to handle to be successful: to survive.

Demographics show that households are not reducing in their size. Children are not ‘flying the nest’ and setting up their own homes as early as they used to. They are therefore staying at home. With public transport being what it is they also require cars for their personal needs. Families of two, three or more cars are therefore not uncommon and Wotton is no exception. They will also need somewhere to park when they come to town.

This proposal with 96 spaces for cars and two coaches will nearly double the amount of formal parking available.

Just think of the benefits. It could provide parking spaces if the Chipping were, once again, to be used for large outdoor events such as farmers’ markets which is something that has also been discussed for many years.

 

2) Why do we have to have the houses as well?

This is the only way a new car park will be built. There have been many attempts to do so in the past with several locations suggested but nothing has ever come of them. Many opportunities have been missed. We are now where we are and this site is just about the only feasible one left.

The location behind the fire station was earmarked as a possible site for a car park a number of years ago but the cost of building it was prohibitive. The intention here is for the car park and its deeds to be handed over to the Town Council for free with the project being funded by the sale of the houses.

Some have said that low cost starter homes should be the way to go but unfortunately the economics of the scheme are such that they wouldn't generate sufficient funds.

This could well be the last chance the town ever has again for more parking.

 

3) It seems that we have found an altruistic developer. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Perhaps it is. Don’t forget, though, that the developer was approached in the first place by the President of Wotton’s Chamber of Trade, Alex Wilkinson. It has been his dream for years that a car park provided in this way might be possible as a means of improving the town’s future prospects. 

 

4) Why is there no ‘affordable’ housing included in the scheme?

The houses are proposed solely to pay for the car park. The only way the scheme can be viable is for ten quality, open market houses to be built in a small development.

 

5) Why can’t we just pay to have a car park built without any houses?

You could but the cost would be prohibitive. The current owners of the land earmarked for use in this project have made it quite clear that they will not sell it at a knock-down price. Add to that the cost of design consultants, planning costs, modifying the access road, building the car park itself and all it entails like lighting, landscaping and markings, contractor overheads and profit margin and you are talking about a figure of probably £750 000. If we were to assume that there are 3000 properties in the town then that would be a cost of £250 for every household!

Most of those items would be required by the new houses anyway and as such would be provided at cost. The eventual purchasers of the houses will foot the bill which would not be anywhere near as much.

 

6) Won’t it make Symn Lane and the junction by the doctors’ surgery more dangerous?

These concerns were raised at the consultation evening earlier this year. Independent consultants have been engaged by the developer as part of the planning process to work with Gloucestershire County Council’s Highways Department to look at them and ensure that both are as safe as possible while keeping the traffic flowing.

It is understood that they do not feel it necessary to make any alterations to the junction for an adequate level of safety to be maintained. Although an emotional subject, the crossing of the road at that point by children living elsewhere in the town and on their way to school is a different matter and is not considered to be an issue here.

 

7) Surely it will mean more traffic and pollution?

Why should it? The suggestion is that the car park will be for long-stay use which is particularly suited to those who work in the town or for tourists visiting for several hours. Traffic volume should not be an issue and neither should pollution as it will reduce the number of cars driving around the town looking for a space.

Many businesses comment on the fact that their customers have gone elsewhere after driving around two or three times and still not being able to find anywhere to park.

This view is also supported by the Highways consultants.

 

8) What will happen in the Chipping Car Park and the rest of the town?

This aspect isn’t actually part of the scheme but if the suggestion that this new car park be for long-stay use is adopted then it would be reasonable to suggest in turn that the Chipping Car Park becomes purely short term for shoppers with, say, a three hour limit. On street parking could then be restricted to very short-stay requirements such as pick up or drop off. 

For any of this to remain credible, however, it would need to be ‘policed’ very strictly to avoid some of the misuse and abuse of which the Chamber is more than aware; a situation being exacerbated by some traders and employees using the High Street for long term parking.

It isn’t for the Chamber to police the area and all we can do is appeal to their sense of fair play and help us to alleviate the problem.

For the scheme to work everyone will have to cooperate or face being penalised by the appropriate authorities. 

But this is all only a suggestion. It is not for the Chamber to decide how the town's parking should be administered.

 

9) Why do we need spaces for coaches?

Tourism is something which we tend to overlook as we live here but many visitors come to the town all year round. And the more tourists we have the busier our shops will become. At the moment there is nowhere suitable for coaches to park whilst their passengers enjoy themselves in the town.

In addition, they could provide somewhere safe for pupils to board and disembark at the Blue Coat School when they have a school trip.

 

10) The view from Kingswood and the approach to the town is beautiful at the moment. Won’t the houses detract from that?

It is really too early to say and the concern shown by a number of people in this matter has been noted, including the preference for a more traditional style of house (see Q13 below). The developer is doing as much as he can to make it look as good as possible and as part of the planning process independent consultants have been appointed to conduct a Landscape Impact Assessment.

 

11) It has been said that the local drainage and sewerage system is already running at full capacity. How will this be mitigated?

The detailed design of this and other aspects is part of the planning process. Therefore design consultants have been appointed to ensure that the infrastructure will be capable of handling everything required of it.

 

12) Is this not the thin end of the wedge with the town slowly spreading across towards Kingswood?

That won’t happen as a result of this development as there will be a legal agreement signed which will prevent it. Contrary to popular misconception, the allotments will not be touched and any plans showing the stub of a road leading into the field at the bottom are simply showing access to that field for the farmer. It is NOT a precursor to expansion and a covenant will ensure that no further development takes place.

 

13) It was this developer who built the new houses behind the doctors’ surgery. In the eyes of some they are ugly and detract from the character of the surroundings. What is there to say that this won’t happen again?

The look of those houses was very much dictated by the planning authorities who were insisting on a contemporary design and not everyone dislikes them. However, it would be fair to say that some lessons on the style and materials used have been learned by the developer from the exercise.

Several suggestions on the design of these new houses were on display at the consultation evening and the architect who attended found it extremely useful talking to people and getting their comments. He has tried to incorporate as many of their ideas as possible in the final design but it has to be said that, at the end of the day, the ultimate decision will rest with the planners.

It is also a matter for debate as to whether the current perspective is actually that beautiful when you consider the extent to which the fire station dominates the view. Careful landscaping of the entire area will minimise any impact and could even improve it.

 

14) How can the traders claim they are suffering from a lack of customers when some close at lunchtime and others all or half of Wednesday?

We can’t tell the traders what to do. Some of them are ‘one man bands’ and even they are entitled to a break sometimes. There is a very delicate balance that needs to be made when considering the running costs of a small business. Some of the fixed overheads that the businesses have to bear are already considerable and beyond our control and to increase one’s hours of business could mean having to sacrifice his or her own time off or paying someone to work longer hours. Don’t forget that they are open on a Saturday when most of us can enjoy some leisure time.


What comes first? On one extreme they could stay open and hope that the customers will come in and justify the extra costs or they could wait to see if there are more visitors coming to the town and then open? …. or try to start somewhere between the two?

Our ultimate goal is to entice more visitors or, shall we say, potential customers into the town. The Heritage Centre is already doing a sterling  job and we want to continue in the same direction. 

 

15) Wotton is in an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). Won’t this development detract from that?

Please refer to Q13. This plan is a last ditch attempt to secure a lifeline for the town, its business and the community at large.  The decisions being taken here are certainly not being taken lightly and as such it is felt to be a price worth paying. Nobody in their right minds likes to see fields being tarmacked over. 

We all love Wotton and the beautiful countryside in which it stands but we do need to move with the times or be left behind. If Wotton were to become a ‘ghost town’ or even a ‘dormitory town’ in which the residents simply sleep and commute to and from work and visit the shops elsewhere then it surely would become a characterless blot on the landscape.

 

16) Wasn’t there some sort of covenant on the land behind the doctors’ surgery to prevent building on it?

The covenant was to cover any development and recompense on the land owned by the surgery and not the package of land being considered here. It is not a matter to be considered in this application and is entirely irrelevant here.

 

17) Why should we be any different to, say, Thornbury which already has plenty of parking and yet shops are still closing?

Shopping centres such as Thornbury and Yate are very different to Wotton’s and will have their own issues. We cannot presume to say that they are in the same situation.

 

18) How can the town council afford the upkeep of another car park when so many hedges and verges are already overgrown elsewhere?

The plan is for the town to be given a new car park worth around £¾M but that won’t include items such as lighting. The strength of feeling within the trading community in the town for more parking is so strong that pledges are already being made to fund the latest low level lighting, a link into the town’s CCTV system and even a couple of charging points for electric cars. The lighting will be of the latest standard and when compared with other, older existing lighting in the immediate vicinity it should hardly be noticeable.

Granted, the council will have to look after it but even if there is a small increase in charges then, when spread across the town and balanced with the benefits it promises, the costs should be minimal.

 

19) Won’t the car park simply become a haven for skateboarders and vandals?

See the answer above. The layout of the new car park attempts to minimise any attraction for using it as a playground. And besides, it will be no different to other open spaces in the town. 

 

20) Surely Alex Wilkinson must be getting a back hander from all of this

Absolutely not! Several very personal insults and some near libellous comments have been made making insinuations to this effect and as a result a number of comments on social media have been removed. Other comments have been blatant distortions of the truth.

This is a very emotional subject for some and we all respect that but there is no reason to use offensive language to get your point across. It doesn’t do anyone any favours and only makes those uttering them look very small indeed.

Alex is currently in his third term as a Wotton-under-Edge Town Councillor and is a member of the town’s Regeneration Partnership which was established to raise funds in support of town improvements.

He has served a total of eight years and continues to do so as President of the Wotton-under-Edge and District Chamber of Trade & Commerce having built it up from a dwindling membership. Under his Presidency the Chamber continues to provide valuable and practical support to local business, acting as a voice on behalf of its members and lobbying key stakeholders such as Government and statutory bodies.

It is obviously difficult for some to comprehend that he simply wants to help take the town in the right direction.  He and the members of his family live in the heart of the town. He loves Wotton. Why would he want to desecrate it?  

 

21) The majority of the town does not want a new car park. Why does the Chamber still persist?

It is not true that the majority are against the plan. The independent town council survey mentioned in Q1 indicates a clear majority wanting more parking. The survey carried out by the Chamber a few months ago (even taking into account the fact that each trader was able to ask his or her customers to sign therefore bringing in the possibility of duplicated signatures across the town) also indicates a clear majority in favour of the scheme. Indeed, there is one trader in the town who alone has more signatures from his customers than all of the various protest votes put together.

It would appear to be the usual case where the minority are shouting loudest and the silent majority are keeping their heads down.

Some have mentioned that they feel intimidated by the protest group and are afraid to make their feelings known. Others have been concerned that they are against the Holywell Farm plan and therefore wonder if they can support the car park scheme. Is this not a contradiction?

They are two completely different projects with totally different factors to be considered.

 

Don't forget. It IS ok to say yes to the car park.