District council and MP lock horns as battle over free parking in Hitchin begins

PUBLISHED: 11:20 22 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:20 22 June 2020

North Hertfordshire District Council is expecting to lose £1.4m in parking revenue this year. Picture: Archant

North Hertfordshire District Council is expecting to lose £1.4m in parking revenue this year. Picture: Archant

Archant

Bim Afolami MP has called on North Hertfordshire District Council to make their Hitchin car parks free, in an attempt to help bring the town centre “back to life”.

Hitchin & Harpenden MP Bim Afolami has called on the District Council to make parking in Hitchin town centre free. Picture: Martin WoottonHitchin & Harpenden MP Bim Afolami has called on the District Council to make parking in Hitchin town centre free. Picture: Martin Wootton

In an open letter addressed to the council last week, Mr Afolami asked NHDC to offer free parking for shoppers in Hitchin town centre, arguing that conversations with constituents prove this would be a popular measure.

The Hitchin and Harpenden MP also highlighted the potential short and long term boosts that a free parking initiative could provide to the town’s businesses.

Mr Afolami said: “As the local MP, I have worked very hard to help our businesses survive this difficult period and I know that you and your team have worked hard at the district council to support them too.

“As you know, the best way for all of us to support our high streets is to continue to use them.

“That is why I am writing to you today to ask that that the Labour-Lib Dem administration offers free parking for shoppers at NHDC-owned car parks in order to help bring Hitchin town centre back to life.

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“I know from correspondence I have received from constituents that this would be a popular measure that would encourage people to shop locally.

“I know the council will be under financial stresses of its own at the moment, but I hope you would agree that this initiative would be a worthwhile Hitchin’s economy in the short term and in the longer term through an increased business survival rate.”

Last week, this newspaper revealed that NHDC looks set for a £1.4 million shortfall in parking revenue this year as a result of lockdown and COVID–19.

In response to Mr Afolami’s request, Cllr Paul Clark, NHDC’s executive member for transport, said: “As Bim knows our administration has been working tirelessly to protect residents and businesses and we will continue to do all we can.

“His government asked us to do ‘all it takes’ during the pandemic crisis. This is precisely what we have done. It also promised to pay what it cost to do so but to date we are over £2 million short.

“We are looking into ways we can help shops and businesses across our towns and villages and changes to parking and other ways of helping people use our towns is one of them.

“However, parking fees are an important source of revenue for the council, so this will cost us even more.

“We welcome the opportunity to discuss this with Bim, and to ensure that the government keeps its promise to give us the means to do so.”


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