Transport councillor: ‘If proposed Hitchin parking pilot is success, Letchworth and Baldock will be next’

Councillor Cunningham spoke at a public meeting to discuss parking charges in Hitchin

Councillor Cunningham spoke at a public meeting to discuss parking charges in Hitchin - Credit: Daniel Wilson

Extending parking charges to include evenings and Sundays would be the ‘death knell’ for Letchworth’s night-time economy, according to a councillor in the town.

David Kearns, who represents the Grange ward, spoke to the Comet after fellow Letchworth councillor Julian Cunningham announced this week that if a proposed trial in Hitchin is a success that it could be rolled out across the district.

If agreed, the proposals – which have led to a petition being launched which has so far gained more than 2,000 signatures – would see an overnight charge introduced from 6pm to 8am, a Sunday charge, and increased daytime prices at council-owned car parks.

Mr Kearns said: “I know that they are trialling it in Hitchin, but I do not think for one minute that it will be a successful trial and I would like to know the criteria for what makes a successful trial.

“And as Letchworth’s night time economy is very young, it is not very well established, and I think this will be the death knell of the night economy of Letchworth.

“Not all the car parks are owned by the council – some are owned by the British Transport Police, the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and Morrisons, and I don’t for one minute think that Morrisons will start charging.”

Mr Kearns’ comments were in reaction to a meeting in Hitchin on Monday where Mr Cunningham, who is responsible for transport issues at North Herts District Council, said he needs to raise income by 16.6 per cent – equating to £240,000 – across the district from parking charges.

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The Letchworth South East ward councillor said: “We’re trying to find an answer to protect our town centres.

“I promise you I’m not picking on Hitchin. If the Hitchin trial is successful, I give you my word it will be applied in Letchworth and Baldock.

“The reality of why Hitchin was chosen is all the figures we have show Hitchin has a significantly greater amount of parking than Baldock and Royston.

“If the resistance is large we will need to find another way to find the 16.6 per cent. I don’t know what the impact will be. If it’s a catastrophe we will stop it.”

The trial in Hitchin was due to start next month and run until April 2015, but Mr Cunningham said he now did not expect any proposals to be put in place until January.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, only Hitchin councillors and groups in the town had been consulted on the proposals.

Speaking about the short consultation period, Mr Cunningham added: “With the benefit of hindsight it was pretty stupid, and it’s sensible to have this consultation.”

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