Calls for cheaper parking in Hitchin

A GROUP will be pushing for a reduction in town centre car parking prices during certain times, in a bid to encourage trade and make it easier for businesses.

Hitchin BID has been fighting for a number of years to have the charges reduced during off-peak times.

It claims this will encourage shoppers and benefit employees in the town.

It is due to receive figures this week which will show current car parking statistics across the area, after North Herts District Council (NHDC) installed special meters.

Hitchin BID and NHDC are due to meet next Friday to discuss the figures, and see whether cheaper charges can be introduced anywhere.

Town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: “The BID company is still eager to pursue some form of discounted parking.

“The question we need to ask is, what are we doing for people who are working in the town? Of course, we want to encourage shoppers, but we also want businesses in the town to stay here.

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“We realise the increasing competition around the area, and that it’s important for us to be seen to be competing in terms of car parking.”

Out of the �1.2m NHDC makes annually from district car parks – which also includes Letchworth GC, Baldock, Knebworth and Royston – �700,000 comes from Hitchin.

Hitchin is also more expensive than any other town in the district for parking.

An hour in the town costs, on average, �1. It costs 50p or less everywhere else.

The BID group has said it wants to move along with plans to introduce cheaper parking quickly, and believes it may be able to make an announcement as early as September.

“I’m really pleased we have this meeting, it’s something the BID management group have long wanted to put into effect,” added Mr Hoskins.

“We’re looking at ways we can introduce something fairly quickly.”

Town visitors, residents and employees are backing the proposed cheaper rates.

Tim Justham, who lives in Preston, told the Comet: “The prices [currently] are probably about 50 per cent too high.

“Normally I park somewhere a bit out where I don’t have to pay and walk.

“It would be good if cheaper parking was introduced on market days, to encourage people in.”

Paul Warwick, a Fairfield Park resident, usually avoids paying for parking and often tries to coincide his weekly shop with his visits to the town, in order to get it for free.

He said: “I rarely use a paid car park by choice.

“I would certainly welcome cheaper parking. What I wouldn’t welcome was any extension of the charged hours.”

One Hitchin shopworker, who asked not to be named, has stopped parking in the town because it costs too much money.

She gets the bus or walks when commuting from her home in the town, and gets the train when coming from her partner’s house in Stevenage.

“I don’t earn that much, so for me it took quite a chunk out of my wages,” she said. “I get the train from Stevenage or walk or bus it from Hitchin. But the train station is a bit of a walk from where I work, and it’s all time consuming.”

Cllr Tom Brindley, NHDC’s portfolio holder for planning, transport and enterprise, said: “Hitchin is a vibrant and popular town, and we want to continue to encourage a steady turnover of people to come into the area to support local businesses and keep the economy buoyant. This is reflected in the car parking charges.

“We know that car parking is an important issue and we are in continuous dialogue with Hitchin Town Centre Initiative about provision and charges, which are set individually for each car park. Money received from car parking contributes to the cost of enforcing parking throughout the town.”