by mikebell on 24 January, 2018
The Weston Mercury reported last week on North Somerset Council’s budget position and the alternative proposals from opposition groups. I just wanted to highlight, in particular, Liberal Democrat proposals on parking charges, which were not covered in your article.
Since the introduction of on-street pay and display parking charges in the town centre, the Conservative administration at the Town Hall has increased charges or enlarged the area covered every year. They have also, year-on-year, increased off-street parking charges, both in long-stay car parks and on the sea front.
There is no question that parking charges and enforcement plays an important part in ensuring flow of traffic and a good turnover of parking spaces for shoppers and visitors. But it is also important that businesses and residents have a fair chance to park affordably too.
Our view is that the council’s approach to parking is failing in three key ways. Firstly, it doesn’t offer anything for residents, especially for those living in the town centre pay and display zone. In fact, for next year the Conservatives plan to make things worse by introducing charges on a Sunday and starting to charge from 8am instead of the current 9am. So if you live in the pay and display zone, you face restrictions on your parking seven days a week, 9am to 6pm. Liberal Democrats want a fair parking permit scheme for town centre residents.
Second, the continuing escalation in parking charges – on and off street – means that we are increasingly deterring visitors and shoppers from the town centre. It is no wonder that out-of-town retail parks and competition from Cribbs Causeway continues to do such damage to our local businesses with free parking. Liberal Democrats want to introduce a free hour of parking in off-street car parks and no parking charges off-street after 6pm to encourage more people into town. And how about, at long last, having some small business Saturday’s, with free parking in the town centre to encourage people in?
Thirdly, the council has adopted a salami-slicing approach to parking policy, with a change here and a parking charge there. They have not developed a long term strategy at all. So we see a situation where Weston-super-Mare pays more than £2 million in parking charges every year, whilst Portishead pays nothing. We see a pay and display zone introduced to tackle town centre issues, but nothing done to address the knock on consequences for surrounding areas, notably around the parks and hillside. We see profit-making Locking Road car park sold, but loss-making Carlton Street car park purchased. Liberal Democrats want to see a comprehensive and open parking review and strategy that addresses these anomalies and creates a fairer system that balances the need of residents, visitors and workers.
I don’t think we’ve got a monopoly on good ideas – or that these suggestions are necessarily all the right ones right now – but we do think that we need to debate them and try to change things for the better. Our challenge to the Conservatives is this, we’re up for listening and trying to work together to find a better way. Are you?
Councillor Mike Bell
Weston-super-Mare Central Ward
Leader, North Somerset Council Liberal Democrat Group