Free parking in Stevenage High Street will remain

Cardies owner Jo Sorrell, Old Town councillor Jody Hanafin, Herts county councillor Philip Bibby and resident Alice Biucchi

Cardies owner Jo Sorrell, Stevenage Old Town councillor Jody Hanafin, Hertfordshire county councillor Philip Bibby and resident Alice Biucchi - Credit: Supplied

Free parking will not be removed from Stevenage High Street, after an agreement was reached to make Stevenage Hertfordshire's first Sustainable Travel Town without the need to meet this controversial criterion, which had caused concern in the community.

The news has come as a relief to Old Town business owners concerned the loss of free parking would deter customers.

Jo Sorrell, who owns Cardies, said: "We are delighted to have that worry lifted. It was a concern for so many traders because we are dependent on the accessibility of the high street for customers. We know so many who aren't able to walk far - even from the old Waitrose car park."

Pensioner Alice Biucchi, who shops in the Old Town, added: "I'm so pleased. So many of the businesses rely on free parking for trade, and the Old Town is a huge retirement area, so there is a concentration of people with reduced mobility, who rely on being able to park very close to the shops."

Old Town councillor Jody Hanafin said: "The removal of free parking posed a threat to the success of our small business owners at a time when many are struggling to recover from the economic effects of COVID-19, and would have been completely unfair."

The STT scheme is led by Hertfordshire County Council, which set the criteria.

Executive member for highways and transport, Philip Bibby, said: "We sensed the outrage of residents and businesses and worked to remove this stipulation. We have agreed to protect free parking along the high street, recognising the importance this has to its future prosperity and amenity."

STT measures include new infrastructure for sustainable transport, which the county council says will result in a "significant switch to walking, cycling and public transport", and that Stevenage will "feel considerably different to the current conditions in the town", with pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users given a greater priority than currently.

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The scheme has no allocated budget, however, so Stevenage Borough Council is expected to stump up some of the cash needed, as well as apply to central government for funding.

The borough council's leader, Sharon Taylor, said:  "We are very proud to be the first Sustainable Travel Town in Hertfordshire. That's exactly where we want to position ourselves."

While benefits may include improved public health through better air quality and more physical activity, the county council warns "there will need to be significant 'sticks' along with the 'carrots'. These are likely to include reduced parking standards in new developments and tighter restrictions on parking on existing highways".

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