Thursday, 8 July 2010

'Cash cow' attitude to car parks threatens local businesses

Sasha Gillard-Loft, my fellow Launceston councillor, and I have criticised Cornwall Council for demanding that car parks raise more and more money. We believe that the high costs could drive away visitors and threaten town centre shops and businesses.

We have also attacked the proposal to kill off the old North Cornwall rover parking ticket once and for all. The ticket allows local residents and businesses to use long stay car parks across the area and was widely used. It's replacement will cost at least four times as much.

Cornwall Council has increased the income they are demanding from car parks by 14%. That is despite a 5% rise in charges and the recession which is hitting local pockets very hard indeed. How can they think that higher car park charges and a recession will mean that more people will want to use local car parks? It just does not make sense.

This year we were very successful in persuading the council to cap charge increases at an average of 5% - but we still saw rises above this level in Launceston car parks. The proposed prices for next year are a mixed bag but will still mean that most shoppers and businesses will have to pay more.

Whilst it is proposed that the charges for the first hour of parking will fall from 70p to 50p, the Car Parking Panel has dismissed the very popular 10p first hour scheme that we put forward. The figures claimed that later hours would have to rise dramatically, but that is only because the Council seems insistent on making such a huge profit out of local drivers. This could see visitors simply bypass towns like Launceston and residents may choose to use out of town stores rather than local businesses in town centres.

The proposal is that the charge for the second hour will rise from £1.30 to £1.70 (a 31% increase), and for the third hour from £1.70 to £1.90 (a 12% increase). After that point, drivers will be forced to leave all but one of Launceston's car parks.

For long stay parking, the charge for four hours will rise from £1.60 to £2.50 (a 56% rise) and parking all day will rise from £3.20 to £4 (a 25% rise). The only good news other than the cheaper first hour is that charging hours will end at 4pm rather than 5pm at the moment, which could help boost late afternoon trade.

In another blow to local businesses, the Council is proposing to end the very popular North Cornwall rover ticket which more than 372 local drivers used. These allowed people to park in a range of long stay car parks across our area for £190 a year. We understood that the cost would have to rise, but the Council is now scrapping the ticket altogether. The only alternative will be to buy a Cornwall-wide ticket costing at least £800 a year - and increase of 321%.

Cornwall Council seems hell bent on a one size fits all attitude to parking. They are refusing to recognise that different towns need different approaches to car park charging. They have already seen that if charges are too high then people will simply refuse to park in our car parks. Last year they missed their parking income target by around £600,000.

Cornwall Council Cabinet member Graeme Hicks told today's meeting that he did not see that parking was an issue. He sadly misunderstands the situation in Launceston and the wider East Cornwall area where shops and businesses are being hit by lower footfall due, in part, to high car parking charges.

Cornwall Council seems to regard car parks as a cash cow which can be milked at any time to provide more income. The truth is that there is only a finite amount that people are willing to pay to use them and higher charges mean fewer users which means less footfall for local shops.

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