wigton – 13 feb and 14th jan

Saturday, 13 February – Wigton

No shopper or businessman, whom I met was in favour of the parking charges in Wigton. Most shop-keepers – and I stopped in almost every shop  – felt that the charges were reducing their trade. I had talked with many of the same shop-keepers in Wigton on 14th January and attitudes seemed to have hardened further in the intervening three weeks.  One shopkeeper said, ‘I can see it clearly even in a matter of months – tourists are no longer stopping by – no-one is browsing anymore, nor moving from shop to shop.’’ Many emphasized that parking was cheaper in Carlisle or even free in Aspatria and Silloth and customers would simply go to those places. When I said that the parking charges were generating very significant revenue for the council and that the council felt it would be difficult to finance services without the parking charges, a shop-keeper replied ‘they are being short-sighted – the council will end by killing the businesses through parking charges and will then get no revenue from business rates.’

Most shopkeepers were also opposed to the proposal to build a Tesco’s. General stores in particular predicted that Tesco’s would simply wipe them out. Some suggested the impact might depend on the size of the Tesco’s – if it was very large it would swamp almost every commercial operation in Wigton – if small enough it might leave most shops able to compete. A number of customers – who already shop at Tesco’s elsewhere were in favour of the store and believed it would bring more life into Wigton – and that the customers who visited Tesco’s would also move on down the street. I witnessed three heated disagreements over the issue with one side accused of being ‘opposed to change’ and the other of ‘not caring about the future of the town’. There was, however, real agreement that Wigton town center is suffering.

Wigton’s unique history, size and location make these threats particularly painful. The residents and shop-keepers of Wigton have a far better idea than anyone else of the options available. They have lived with these issues, know them intimately, love the town and have a direct stake in its future. Our current consultation mechanisms and planning regulations do not seem to make Wigton residents feel fully engaged in the future of their town. This not only causes anger with government, it also deprives government of fresh ideas from well-informed, motivated and energetic people. We must work together to change this – nationally and locally – and give communities more control of their environments and lives.

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