FREE parking in Old Town is the goal for businesses after a campaign was launched this week.
Following the closure of hairdressers Talk Of The Town and cafe Cakes And Ale in the last month, neighbouring shops feel more needs to be done to encourage shoppers into Old Town.
Kris Talikowski, of The Core in Devizes Road, set up the campaign on Facebook which attracted more than 300 supporters in 24 hours.
“The bigger picture is that Old Town is like Clifton in Bristol, or Southbank in London,” he said. “It is an area people embrace as something a little bit different. We have got all our independent retailers and shops which gives it its character. “People have to feel like they can come here frequently to keep businesses alive.
“The idea behind the campaign is that most major shopping centres have free parking. “Down town there is lots of off-street one hour parking. If you need to nip into town you have then got one hour to do everything you need to.
“In Old Town you can’t do that. There is some free parking on residential roads but that is a long walk, and a lot of people will use the Co-op car park which should just be for their customers.
“If we had an area free for one or two hours it would cultivate the ‘pop in and use the businesses’ attitude you have in other areas.”
Kris said local businesses need to work together to survive in the face of new developments such as Regent Circus.
“My vision for Old Town is to really broaden it as the cultural quarter of Swindon, and a place people recognise,” he said. “We have to make this place magic and get people to know about everything we have here.
“Free parking would not resolve all the issues businesses have but I think it would be a positive step forward to help remove that barrier.”
Nearby shop owners welcomed the campaign.
Hair salon owner Mike Reynolds said: “Something does need to be done, because it is a shame when you see businesses close that have been here for 46 years.
“Old Town has a tremendous amount to offer, and people need to have a reason to stay up here. They need that added incentive, and parking might well do that.”
Louise Field, the manager of Gustoso cafe, said: “It would be a great idea, especially for us because we have a 24 hour loading bay right outside.
“We are restricted as it is, so any help would go a long way. They need to look again at all the areas and see what they can do to allow more parking while businesses are open. “I would think if people can park up for a couple of hours that would be for the best for everyone.”
Simon Rhodes, the owner of Wood Street Food Hall, said: “We have had a lot of problems with people not being able to park.
“Parking is about looking forward to the future to generate increased footfall, which will then increase turnover and employment.”
Coun Dave Woods (Lib Dem, Eastcott) said: “Free parking in Old Town would solve a lot of problems in the area. “The evidence we have seen around Wiltshire is that up to two hours free parking would boost high street trade. “The cost is slightly mitigated by the idea that a more thriving shopping area will result in car parks generally being more full.
“For a spontaneous campaign to launch says there is frustration that is being felt that there is a lack of communication and action.
“There is also a sense that the town centre shopping area is getting all the support from the council while Old Town is being ignored.”