Drop in council owned car park use

THE number of people using council owned car parks in North Herts plummeted last year at a rate of 11.6 per cent compared to the year before, with decreases in both Letchworth and Hitchin between April and November.

There was a 16.8 per cent reduction in the Letchworth parking ticket sales and a 6.1 per cent reduction in Hitchin in the six month period in comparison to the same period in 2009.

The figures come after ticket sales were increased by the council last year, with some car parks almost doubling its tariffs for short stay parking.

The Lairage multi-storey car park in Hitchin raised its rates from 60p for an hour up to �1, and from 80p for two hours up to �1.50. It has one of the largest decreases of ticket sales at 19.6 per cent.

Christchurch car park ticket sales decreased by 19.4 per cent, with Bigg Lane also suffering losses of 17.5 per cent.

There were some increases in ticket sales though, with both Woodside and Bancroft car parks seeing an increase of visitors. The former decreased prices for a one hour stay from 60p to 50p and only increased the price marginally for other time periods.

“We should be encouraging people to come and shop at the nearest town where they live,” said Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins.

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“Whenever car park prices change, there’s always a reaction. It takes a while to settle back down.

“If you’re not getting people using the parking, what’s the point in charging �1.50 for two hours on a Wednesday afternoon when it’s not a peak time. Trains don’t charge the same fares for peak as they do off peak.”

Although there were no individual break downs available for Letchworth, the 16.8 per cent decrease in council owned car park visitors was higher than the district average.

But town centre manager Lee Boswell said that there were more people visiting the town than ever, and it did not reflect footfall in the area.

“Footfall, measured in Garden Square Shopping Centre, has improved since last year and if NHDC car park usage is down 17 per cent, that would indicate that shoppers are either parking in alternative car parks, using public transport or walking into town,” he said.

“Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation also owns three car parks in the town, at The Wynd, Rowland Way and off Broadway with spaces starting from just 20p an hour.

“Anecdotal evidence would suggest these car parks are certainly getting busier.”

North Herts District Council still took more income from its car parks in 2010 than in 2009, with �650,743 being taken in Hitchin between April and November 2010 as opposed to �515,944 the year before.

“One of our priorities is to do everything we can to promote the vitality of town centres throughout the district, and last year’s changes to parking tariffs does not change that,” said Cllr Tom Brindley, NHDC portfolio holder for planning transport and enterprise.

“The downturn in car park usage earlier in the year is not unexpected, and is due to the economic climate as much as to charges.

“We don’t have the finalised figures for December as yet, but indications are that there has been a slight upturn in town centre parking.”