Salisbury ‘starting to turn a corner’ after Novichok attack

Visitors to Salisbury halved in the wake of the Novichok attack but the city’s economy is gradually beginning to recover.

Matthew Dean, who was leader of the city council at the time, said it had a “very serious economic impact” but things have started to “turn a corner” in the last few months.

Businesses were effectively shut down for decontamination and a series of cordons were set up around the city.

Mr Dean said: “Visitor numbers were down 50% since March and April the previous year.

“It had a very serious economic impact on the city.

“It recovered gradually, beginning to return to normality.

“Then there was an enormous shock with the second incident.

“That had a huge impact on business confidence and leisure and tourism.

“It’s something we have only really started to see turn the corner this year in the last few months.”

Recalling how the events unfolded, Mr Dean said emergency services had been stretched and under pressure in the run-up to the attack as they had been tackling severe weather conditions.

He said some police officers called in to assist had already been working “desperately long hours the previous week”, adding: “We had been through a period of extremely bad weather and snow.

“The city had been very quiet.

“There was a sense of looking forward to getting back to normality.”

When news emerged that a nerve agent had been involved in the attack, he said “things escalated very quickly”.

“It was very clear this was becoming a major incident and the consequences weren’t really known,” he said.

The city has been making plans for the future – including hosting the forthcoming Armed Forces Day and seeing the return of its international arts festival as well as plans for a “cultural quarter”, according to its MP John Glen.

But Mr Dean, who continues to serve as a councillor, hit out at “stupid” stunts which had rocked the city in the meantime, including the moment a Russian flag was draped over the cathedral. He said that stunt was “completely unnecessary” and the community had found it insensitive to the severity of the situation.

He welcomed the completion of the clean-up, saying: “It’s difficult to make the case it is business as usual when you still have cordons.

“There is an element of closure now.

“We want to put this behind us.”