Mark Cordell, Bid4Bury chief executive, on the debate over parking charges in Bury St Edmunds.
It was just about a year ago when Bid4Bury and the Chamber of Commerce discovered the intention of St Edmundsbury Borough Council (SEBC) to increase car parking charges across the town by at least 10 per cent and you all may recall that we raised a petition with over 3,000 signatures asking for these increases to not be implemented – but regrettably our pleas were in vain.
The council did though ask Cllr David Nettleton to carry out a review of car parking charges in the borough and he subsequently submitted a report to the overview and scrutiny committee which I consider to be a very fair and even-handed report with recommendations that on the whole, I am confident our businesses would support.
This report was then forwarded on to the council Cabinet to consider its contents in December. I have recently read this report and was very surprised to see that a recommendation had been added to David’s report in respect of offering free parking after 4pm on Thursday evenings. Neither myself, the Chamber of Commerce or the arc management have been consulted on this matter and frankly I am amazed that such a proposal has been included in a paper to be placed before the full council without seeking the views of those organisations that represent local businesses. Particularly after SEBC has made public statements saying that this lack of consultation with Bid4Bury and the Chamber of Commerce on town centre issues would not happen again.
In general terms, the night time economy businesses are not that badly affected by the charge of £1 for an evening’s parking and, as is clear to anyone who visits the town centre, the number of restaurants is actually increasing and those trading are very popular with consumers. So why on earth would anyone think this is the most pressing issue for town centre businesses?
Having said that, the offer of over eight hours’ free parking a week is very much appreciated and I am hoping that the councillors will show some flexibility in regard of this offer of support.
If the council was prepared to offer a ‘free from three’ scheme (as many other councils do) say on a Tuesday and Thursday, which are the less busy days for our businesses, then that would be welcomed by myself and our businesses. Surely it is clear to everyone that our town centre is being badly affected by the recession, with businesses closing each week and it is now, at such a difficult time for them all, that Bid4Bury members need some help and demonstrable support from the council.
I understand that the bureaucracy of the council structure will have to be circumnavigated to enable the ‘fleet of foot’ flexibility I am seeking, but surely if the will is there to ensure our town centre remains vibrant, interesting and a great place to be, then the inclusion of this proposal into the report that goes before the full council on February 26 can be accommodated.