Protest over potential loss of free high street parking
- Credit: Trevor Coultart Photography
Protesters against mooted plans to get rid of free parking in Stevenage High Street - concerned it will lead to the destruction of small businesses - have held a demonstration in the Old Town.
Stevenage Borough Council must look at removing free High Street parking after successfully bidding to become one of Hertfordshire's first Sustainable Travel Towns - a scheme aimed at shifting away from cars, towards walking, cycling and public transport.
Parking bays have already been given over to seating areas outside Costa Coffee, Misya, Angelique, Cinnabar and Wetherspoon. Parking was also lost to three bike stands in 2020.
Stevenage mayor and Old Town councillor Jim Brown says the seating areas were in response to the pandemic, but some may become permanent.
On Saturday, dozens of High Street business owners and residents against the loss of free parking held a protest in the High Street.
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Jo Sorrell, owner of Cardies, said: "The High Street has worked very successfully for many years because of the convenience of free shop front parking."
John Spiers, a member of Stevenage Old Town Business and Community Partnership, said: "The High Street should work for everyone - access for all, not just cyclists and walkers. The council is taking away that choice and making it more difficult for people to use their cars."
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Paul Sear, also an SOTBCP member, added: "This is the biggest change to the High Street since the gyratory system and it has all been done without any discussion or consideration for independent businesses or the elderly and infirm, who rely on their cars to visit the Old Town."
The council says plans to apply to the STT scheme were consulted on as part of the wider Future Town, Future Transport strategy in 2019.
Cllr Brown says those publicly opposing the potential loss of free parking are "unhelpful and negative". He said: "The High Street is starting to buzz, but they are putting people off - effectively telling them it's not a good place to come to."
A council spokesman said: “To support the reopening of the High Street and safely welcome back shoppers and diners, the council has provided an additional 120 free car parking spaces in the Primett Road car park [until at least September], along with additional outdoor [seating] spaces.
“The council has not committed to the removal of free car parking in the High Street. Hertfordshire County Council’s plan for Sustainable Travel Towns is still being formulated and, whilst part of that does include a discussion on reduced car use, no decisions have yet been made. Any future decision will strike a balance between the promotion of sustainable transport and the effect this could have on businesses as we recover from the effects of COVID-19.
“Further consultation and engagement will take place in the autumn with businesses, residents, shoppers and visitors.”