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Traders call for longer free parking to boost Helston businesses
7:00am Thursday 12th July 2012 in Cornwall
Longer free parking in Helston town centre would allow shoppers time to spend more money and boost the town’s economy.
This was the view of Jonathan Geer from Gillian’s Tubs, at a meeting of Helston Traders’ Forum attended by Cornwall Councillor Andrew Wallis, chairman of the parking advisory panel.
The main focus of the meeting was to look at ways of attracting more people into Helston, with traders fearing parking was putting shoppers off visiting.
Explaining his idea of increasing the time limit on free spaces in Meneage Street, Coinagehall Street and Wendron Street, Mr Geer said: “An hour is more than twice as long as half an hour, in terms of usable time.”
Mr Wallis, whose ward covers part of Helston as well as Porthleven, said he had “seen how accountants work at Cornwall Council” and questioned what effect this would have on income from car parks, which currently produced £160,000 a year in Helston.
However, Chris Wood from PDQ did not believe longer town centre parking would affect the number of people in car parks, as anyone like him already did not bother to try for a space in town, it was always so busy, but for those who did find one they might stay longer.
The idea had the support of town manager Jonathan Birkett, who described an hour’s parking as “perfectly reasonable” to his mind.
He said: “We can talk about this static £160,000 revenue, but if less people are coming to the town centre that’s going to decrease. What we need to do is attract more people.”
This was just one of the suggestions from the traders, who were given a chance to take greater control of their own town’s car parks.
Mr Wallis said: “Helston is one of the few towns in Cornwall that actually works together.
“I’m encouraging businesses and town centres to come up with a plan and best strategy for parking. There is a caveat – Cornwall Council wants £160,000, because it knows it can have £160,000.
“We need to come up with something that, if we knocked it down to 50p for two hours, for example, would make more money. We need to convince the accountants.”
He used Redruth’s Rosewarne car park as an example of where dropping the price from £4.50 to £2 all day parking actually resulted in more money coming in.
Mr Wallis added that free parking was “not going to happen,” explaining that when it was tried in a Falmouth car park shoppers were unable to use it because the spaces were filled with businesses’ and residents’ cars.
One trader suggested charging 50p for every hour spent in town. Mr Wallis said that nobody seemed to spend longer than two hours in Helston and when previously it was 50p for one hour or £1.70 for two this put people off. If it was a blanket 50p per hour shoppers would “feed” the meter and the council would lose revenue.
“We have got to look at that and see whether to take that on the chin because the town is more vibrant,” he said.
Michelle Wootton, of Slender Me, asked whether cars could pay on exit instead of arrival, explaining that she did not go into town if she didn’t have change for the car park machine. She added she would stay longer to get the necessary cash if she could pay on exit.
Mr Wallis said the council was reviewing this at the moment and looking to spend £500,000 replacing machines elsewhere in the county.
The problem was that some car parks – including in Helston – had very wide mouths, meaning barriers would have to be added and the only way this could be paid for was through the car parking budget.
He added that automatic number place recognition was being looked into, but this currently didn’t take into account blue badge holders who parked for free and the technology was “not quite there yet” but would be in a year or two.
Architect Scott Hesketh said there was a “huge amount of wasted space” in the town, with Coinagehall Street in particular having the potential to fit far more parking spaces.
Mr Wallis said this could be done, but would need funding from somewhere.
“If traders said ‘It will cost £10,000, we’ll pay £5,000’, Cornwall Council may say ‘Alright, they’re keen, let’s go for it.’ If we work together we might be able to achieve something,” he added.
Mr Birkett said a parking group had been set up within the Town Team, which over the next 12 months would carry out a full consultation with shoppers and visitors.
Earlier Mr Wallis had explained that Cornwall Council made £18 million each year from the county’s car parking fees and £10 million of that was spent on services, with £5 million going to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and a “huge chunk” to central government.
“If we didn’t have car parking revenue we’d have to find money elsewhere. There are two ways: whacking up council tax or cutting services,” he added.
Mr Wallis said the initial “one size fits all” approach to parking did not take into account the fact that every town was different.
This was the reason why a £1 charge for two hours parking was now introduced in Helston, with parking free before 8am and after 4pm.
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