A LIVELY discussion on the future of Wimborne's newly pedestrianised square has resulted in a clear indication that a balance needs to be struck between commercial and community activity and desires.
More than 100 people packed into the meeting room at Allendale House on Monday to hear and give their views on how the newly laid out square should be operated and developed.
The meeting was chaired by district councillor Simon Tong, chairman of East Dorset's community committee and spokesman for economy, who was accompanied by Lindsay Cass, head of property and engineering for the district council.
Mr Tong stressed that the district council's role was to be legally responsible for the management of the square and its pedestrianised area, which remained part of the highway, and that the council had no wish to dictate how it was used, only to manage it on behalf of the community in accordance with its legal responsibility for public space.
He said that in the first 12 months of operation, there had been a fairly consistent use of the public space in terms of bookings managed by the Wimborne BID, and marketing and events manager Jenny Brown confirmed the regular demand from charities and exhibitors.
"It's getting busier and busier as people learn of the opportunity," she said,
Mr Tong suggested that part of the area might be almost permanently available for public exhibition, and nothing was set in stone at this stage.
"It may take some time to work out the balance between events and cafe facilities, and we are still at the foothills of this."
Plans to allow parts of the events area of Wimborne Square to be used for outdoor cafe facilities were deferred by East Dorset District Council's resources committee in November for further consultation following renewed opposition from the Wimborne BID, and BID director Philip Maunder told the meeting that his group was strongly of the opinion that any tendering for facilities on the square should be open to all, and that community use should be protected.
He said there had been a suggestion that cafe use should be restricted to allow only 20 days of community use, which was insufficient.
Diann March, president of the Wimborne Chamber of Trade, said the chamber supported the idea of chairs and tables on the pedestrianised area, but only to the depth of two tables.
"It is a public area for everyone to enjoy, and people should have the option to purchase from the outlet of their choice."
Wimborne Mayor, Councillor Andy Hampton said: "The town square has grown in stature and has put Wimborne on the map for both tourists, residents and traders. The town council supports businesses putting tables and chairs outside their premises, and the district council should be able to invite applicants."
Jez Barfoot of the Tickled Pig said he had been successful in his application for change of use of Wimborne Interiors - who are moving to new premises - at 3 The Square, to provide a delicatessen and would like to be able to put out tables.
"But I don't want a monopoly of the area," he said.
Mark Rowan of Costa Coffee said: "People expect a sitting out area, and it was always the district council's intention to have one. I was approached to provide it, and we collected 300 names in a few days of people wanting to sit in the square. I would be delighted to see the Tickled Pig there, but it should also be available to others."
The discussion amongst others present ranged widely from the cafe issue, and resident David Bourne was one of many to appeal for the area to be 'softened' with more tree planting, more casual seating, and perhaps a fountain feature in an area which was considered to lack character.
Town councillor Shane Bartlett reminded the meeting that the town council had paid £30,000 towards the square's development, and has asked for three trees, only one of which had been planted. Fellow town councillor Henry Bartlett offered £200 of his own money towards the provision of more.
Malcolm Angel of Gullivers Bookshop said: "Visitors love the square, but it needs softening, perhaps with mobile trees in planters as they have on the continent which can be changed with the seasons."
Juliet Beardsley, spokesman for Wimborne Women in Business, likened the square to "Grandma's sitting room, where nobody dared to tread" and suggested a cart feature from where business people without shop premises could trade their wares.
Councillor Pat Hymers called for a more sensitive arrangement of public seating, and there were also repeated concerns that the surface of the paving stones was too bright.
A resident in the square appealed for controls during events on sound amplification which he said was unnecessary in the confined area of the square, and another resident, Raymond Galbraith, urged that the importance of the square as an architectural feature in its own right should not be lost.
Mr Cass said all the ideas put forward at the meeting would be summarised so that a range of options could be considered by the square's management group for report to the district council in late February or early March for a decision in time for the summer season.
And Mr Tong issued a word of warning, saying:"Whether trees can be mobile or not, money does not grow on them, and the district council cannot fund as well as licence the square."