This morning I was interviewed on Radio Cornwall as part of their day long look at parking in Cornwall. They were asking about our Free after 4 campaign. I think they thought we in Launceston are unique in having parking charges ending at 4pm. In fact, Launceston is one of a number of towns across Cornwall where the finishing time has been brought forward by an hour. What makes our town different is that we are trying to support our local shops and businesses (as well as stopping drivers being ripped off) by advertising the change.
But whilst I was on, we talked about the broader principle of the level of charges for Cornwall car parks. I reject the rather spurious claim being made by Cllr Graeme Hicks - the Cabinet member for parking - that the consequences of what we are calling for is a potential loss to the Council of £15 million.
There are three reasons why this is a straw man argument. First - the £15 million figure is pie in the sky. The biggest income that parking has ever made is around £12.5 million. Second, even that is not all profit. The parking service has expenditure of more than £5 million per year. So the 'profit' is only around £7-£7.5 million.
That's still a lot of money, but, and this is the third reason, no one is seriously suggesting that car parking could be made free. We are arguing that the costs should be realistic so that they don't unfairly penalise visitors, residents, shops or businesses. In my opinion, the best option for the Council this year would have been to freeze all parking charges. I fully accept that others, including Cllr Hicks, have a different point of view. But even if they can make more money out of parking this year, I believe that the long term cost to our shops and businesses will be much greater than any short term gain to the Council.
The Government announced last week that it is proposing to localise business rates. At the moment, business rates are collected by councils but passed straight on to central government. By localising this money (and cutting the central grant), it will force authorities to be a lot more responsive to the needs of local shops and employers. In the area of car parking, I hope that Cornwall Council will pay greater heed to businesses sooner rather than later.
You can hear my contribution to Radio Cornwall by clicking here and scrolling forward to about 2 hours 10 minutes