Starving the town centre

It seems that Swindon Borough Council are unaware that we’re in the midst of an economic recession. Six months after they forced several street traders to move, the council’s licensing committee is at it again, this time with more draconian measures. They now propose to exclude all street traders from the main pedestrianised streets in the town centre (Canal Walk, The Parade, Regent Street, Regent Circus, Edgeware Road and Bridge Street). This will displace street traders that have only just moved following the committee’s last attempt at stifling street trading.

So, not content with there already being many empty shops in the town centre, the council now wants to get rid of street traders too. Under the proposals, street trading will be allowed in very few town centre streets. Farmers and continental markets will be allowed in Wharf Green (it seems that the council likes those); fast food stalls will be exiled to the site of the post office at Fleming Way. The only good news for street traders is that the fees the council charges them will be decreased. Given how little trade some of the permitted streets will allow, that’s no comfort to the street traders.

This commercial vindictiveness is, supposedly, to help regenerate the town centre.

This proposal relates to the 2010 Promise 35 that we will take all necessary steps to secure the regeneration of the town centre.

As the proposals are backed by the New Swindon Company — the quango whose only tangible contribution to the town centre’s regeneration has been demolition — it’s no surprise that the proposals are totally illogical. If the town centre was thriving and the street traders were in some way dragging it down, perhaps there would be some sense to it. But it is not, and will not be for some years yet. To claim that removing street traders contributes to the regeneration of the town centre is like claiming that sanding down a few rust spots would allow a broken-down car to pass an MOT.

Swindon’s blue nest councillors should be ashamed of the authoritarian leanings that this policy displays.