Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Launceston Chamber of Commerce Parking Survey

You may have seen in the local paper a report on Launceston Chamber of Commerce's parking survey within our town. It provides very worrying evidence that Cornwall Council's parking charges and policies are having a significant impact on local shops and businesses.

The Chamber of Commerce sent the survey results both to the Council's cabinet member, Graeme Hicks, and to the Parking Policy Panel. Although they have had an acknowledgement, it seems that neither Cllr Hicks nor the Parking Panel is prepared to meet with the Chamber to discuss the outcomes or what can be done in the light of the evidence.

The attitude from the Council appears to be that they are not prepared to contemplate changes until next March or April.

If you haven't been able to read the survey results, I've re-printed the key findings below:

Following the increase in parking charges in Cornwall Council owned car parks in Launceston in the Spring of 2011, Launceston Chamber of Commerce became increasingly alarmed at the drop in footfall in the town.

The situation started to become apparent in late Summer of 2011 and became increasingly worse over the Christmas and New Year period into 2012. We believed this to be due to a number of factors including fuel price rises and the general state of the National economy.

However we were receiving, through reports from our members, more and more anecdotal evidence that many local people were visiting the town less often and that their visits were being shortened due to the higher cost of parking.

We were hearing stories of people no longer using the local cafes to meet for lunch and of ladies having shorter hairdresser appointments in order to save on the cost of second hour parking. We also heard many stories of people attending appointments and meetings which they suspended while they went to move their cars to a different car park in order to take advantage of a second 50p first hour. We believe this is still going on and we can understand why it might happen when the cost of paying for 2 hours on arrival is so much greater than two separate 1 hour periods.

It was decided in late January to try and turn some of these anecdotes into facts by finding out how much impact the new parking charges were actually having on people's behaviour. To this end, a questionnaire was developed and displayed in a number of shops and businesses around the town who asked customers to complete them over a 6 week period in February and March.

At the same time, it was decided to survey people who live and work in the town on the impact of the new annual season ticket prices, which saw the cost of these permits rise from £195 to £400 in 2011 and a further increase to £470 in March 2012.

It is the firm belief of the Chamber that Cornwall Council has increased the price of this annual permit to the point where it is no longer affordable for a large number of people and is not competitive with market rates for private parking spaces in and around the town, which is currently in the region of £220 to £280.

As a result, many people have sought alternative parking arrangements, which has led to the very undesirable situation whereby residential areas are being choked with cars belonging to people who work in the town centre, to the detriment of the people who live in these areas.

Our survey revealed that a massive 91% of people who used to purchase an annual season ticket have not renewed since the price increase.

More worryingly, only 44% stated they would renew their pass if the price were to be reduced. The best explanation for this would seem to be that people have been forced to make alternative arrangements, with which they are now happy (often they are now parking for free, as evidenced by the result that 60% state they are now using on street parking). This would suggest that the council has a lot of work to do if they wish to win these customers back.

It is also our belief that, as evidenced by the results of this questionnaire, the people of Launceston have cut back on the number of visits they make to the town centre, together with the length of those visits, due to the new charges being made in Cornwall Council car parks.
  • 82% of those completing the survey admit to having reduced the number of visits or their length of stay.
  • 63% of people now only pay for 1 hour or use the 30 minute free on street parking.
  • 56% of people base the length of their stay purely on the cost of parking.
  • 55% of people did not use a Cornwall Council car park, which is an astonishing figure given the prevalence of Cornwall Council owned parking spaces in the town.
These are worrying figures at a time when the High Street is already under pressure from the general economic situation and the competition from out of town shopping areas which are able to offer free parking to their customers.

While a specific question was not asked on the subject, the Chamber of Commerce does not believe that the new charging periods (including the free parking after 4pm) have been particularly beneficial to the town of Launceston. These free hours do not generally fit with the way people use the town, its shops and its businesses, and have been poorly publicised at the ticket machines.

Launceston Chamber of Commerce calls upon Cornwall Council to abandon their policy of grouping towns for car park pricing purposes and urgently review their car park pricing structure (hourly rates and annual season tickets). Only by returning prices to levels which work for Launceston will the council see greater use of their car parks and hence greater income.

We believe the current pricing policy has failed, and huge numbers of people who once visited the town regularly now do not visit at all or cut their visits short due to the high cost of second hour parking.

We specifically draw the council’s attention to Appendix 1 of this report, which contains some of the unsolicited comments written by people on their survey forms. They make for very worrying reading, both for business in our town and the council.

Businesses in our town are under attack on a number of fronts, and we believe that if nothing is done to bring people back into the town as a matter of urgency, 2012 will see a number of the smaller businesses closing, and possibly some of the bigger names in the high street pulling out of Launceston.

Launceston Chamber of Commerce is launching a new town Loyalty Card Scheme in May. Are Cornwall Council prepared to help us save our town centre and regain their car park customers?

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