Thursday, 15 March 2012

Council failing over parking charges

  • Season tickets sales have slumped since price rises
  • Prices up again today despite promised freeze
  • Cheap rate for low paid workers delayed
  • Parking meters threatened for some town centres

Cornwall Council has sold just five annual season tickets in Launceston since prices more than doubled in May last year - and prices have risen yet again today.

Season tickets across Cornwall used to be sold pretty haphazardly - with only 13 being sold in the form Carrick at one point. But in North Cornwall in general (and Launceston in particular) the scheme has always been pretty well publicised and well used. That is probably largely due to the narrow streets and walled nature of our town which means that there are very few on street spaces close to the town centre. We also have lots of town centre flats with no parking spaces of their own.

So the drop in the number of season tickets sold is pretty worrying. It will mean a huge loss of income to Cornwall Council and more cars parked on our streets in residential areas (much to the annoyance of some residents).

In the four and a bit months before the season ticket price rose from £195 to £400, there were 195 annual passes sold across the former North Cornwall area (at that stage no records were taken of where the tickets were used). Just five have been renewed since the price rise.

There is a similar story for six month passes. Before the price rise, 143 were sold across North Cornwall in four and a bit months. Since the rise, just seven have been sold.

And yet, despite promises made to local members about the price being frozen this year, the annual charge has risen to £470 (a rise of 17.5%). I asked officers about this today and was told that it was because the day rate for long stay car parks has also risen (itself a cause for concern). The £400 price was already stupid and self-defeating, yet it seems like Cornwall Council is determined to empty the Cattle Market long-stay car park completely.

Those of us who complained about the damage that the high season ticket prices were doing to town centre shops and businesses were told that a cheap rate would be introduced for lower paid workers. Whilst the plan for assessing who would qualify for the cheap rate was pretty badly thought through, at least this was recognition that high season ticket prices could damage local shops and businesses. So why hasn't the scheme been introduced? Because the council is 'worried about the effects on revenue'.

At today's car parking panel meeting at County Hall, officers raised the prospect of introducing charges for on-street parking. Installing meters is said not to be about revenue raising but about helping to ensure a regular turnover of shoppers. I'm afraid that, when everything else to do with parking in Cornwall is revenue related, I don't entirely accept the promise about this being for altruistic reasons - particularly when the same effect can be gained by introducing limited waiting periods where there are none and enforcing those that do exist.


1 comment:

Lanson Chamber said...

The council have to wake up and realise that all they are doing is selling a commodity. In this case parking spaces.

It is no different to me selling goods in my shop. I cannot decide at the beginning of the year how much money I want to make and then double my prices in order to try and make it.
My customers would simply choose not to shop with me.
And in the same way, they are deciding not to park in the Council's parking spaces.

If it were my business I would be forced to reduce my prices back to a level the market would accept or go out of business.

Cornwall Council, on the other hand, have buried their heads firmly in the sand and just carried on increasing prices.

The very sad thing about this madness is that it is having a huge impact on town centre footfall. In the current economic climate, the lack of customers cannot be put down solely to the cost of parking.
But a survey recently conducted by Launceston Chamber makes for very worrying reading, with the vast majority of shoppers stating that their visits to town have been shortened (and in many cases are much less frequent) due to the increased parking charges.

This action by the council could have very long term and far reaching consequences.
As they have forced people to find alternative places to park, there is a risk that those 'customers' (if the council could only see them as customers) will not come back, even if charges were returned to a more reasonable level.

In addition, many small family run businesses are really suffering. One closed its doors last week, and from conversations I have had with our members, others are not far from being forced to do the same.
This will lead to a reduction in business rates receipts for the council as it is unlikely that these empty premises will be taken on quickly given the fragility of our local economy.

While some may say it is expected that business organisations will squeal at any increased costs to business, in this instance I do not believe we are being over dramatic. I really do think that Cornwall Council, together with many other councils nationwide, are damaging our town centre economies to a point from which they will not recover.

The argument will undoubtedly be made that costs have to be cut and income raised, and that if car park charges are not increased then additional revenue would have to be found from somewhere or further cuts made in other services.
But the reality is that if charges were to be bought back to a sensible and affordable level, then revenue would increase - providing of course people can be attracted back to the car parks.
I wonder when the council will do the sums and realise that by selling 7 passes at £470 they are slightly worse off than if they had sold 195 passes at £200. Without even looking at the non financial cost of having cars clogging up residential areas.

Your argument for the case of residents of the town is also well made, and we must not forget that for many who live in the town a £470/year 'residents permit' is just not an option.

We have two vehicles (one commercial, one personal) and live in and operate our business in the town centre. Thanks to the increased costs of permits we went out and sought and found two private parking spaces close to the town centre.
Both of which cost less than half what the council are now charging for their annual permit, and both spaces more secure than an open public car park.
We have been lucky, there are not many spaces to be had, and many don't have that option.
But we will never buy a council pass again now we have been forced to find alternatives.

I fear that by the time the council wake up and realise that what they have done has lost them revenue, it will be too late for the town and many of the small businesses already struggling to make a living from it.

Paul Loft
Deputy Chairman
Launceston Chamber of Commerce