Government frees councils to set town centre parking policies

RESTRICTIONS on town centre parking numbers imposed by central government are to be lifted with district councils free to set parking policy.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles made the announcement this week as part of a new draft of the National Planning Policy Framework, which promotes a ‘town centre first’ policy.

National parking restrictions set by Whitehall in 2001 have until now dictated the number of parking spaces a council is permitted to grant.

Mr Pickles said: “Families and local firms face a parking nightmare under existing rules. Stressed-out drivers have to run the gauntlet of parking fines, soaring parking charges and a lack of parking spaces. These parking restrictions have hit small shops the hardest, creating ‘ghost town’ high streets which can’t compete with out-of-town supermarkets.”

Tom Brindley, North Herts District Council’s portfolio holder for planning, transport and enterprise, said: “We are currently considering our response to the recently issued draft National Planning Policy Framework, which largely impacts on future development. We certainly agree with Mr Pickles that decisions about parking spaces ought to lie with the councils who understand the needs of their communities better than central government.”

A spokesman for Stevenage Borough Council said: “The council has 17 car parks which provide ample amounts of both long and short stay parking for the town. However, the number of parking spaces in the town centre will be re-considered in the future as part of the town centre regeneration project.”

The move was backed by Comet country’s four town centre managers, although Lee Boswell insisted more must be done.

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“The announcement only goes 50 per cent of the way to achieving what our town centres need,” said the Letchworth town centre manager.

“A relaxation on the car parking quotas is great for housing developments but does nothing to help drive people back into their local centres.

“While the local councils are still able to set their own levy on the fees it seems unlikely that we will see an increase of car park use. If we want to see more people visit our town we simply must lower the prices. We’re only asking for a level playing field to give us the chance against the major out-of-town shopping areas.

“Evidence has proved that even a minor increase in car parking costs will see a drop in usage and Hertfordshire has seen serious increases in recent years. It is time to reverse the trend, but is anyone brave enough to make these tough decisions?”

Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: “I welcome anybody who has a realistic view on making it easier and cheaper for people to park their cars. It’s welcome rhetoric but I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Stevenage town centre manager Tracey Parry said: “It is a priority for both the Stevenage Town Centre Management Company and the local authority to encourage people to shop locally and support their High Street, but town centres will always face tough competition from the large supermarkets and out-of-town retail parks that offer free parking. At the end of the day, car parking is a source of revenue for local authorities so we have to be realistic, while keeping costs as low as possible.”

Murray Fastier, Baldock town centre manager, said: “I am particularly interested in the quote ‘promote a town centre first policy’ which is fantastic for the many small independent retailers we have in Baldock. I look forward with interest to further developments with this new direction.”

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