by jackdavies on 28 December, 2019
Christmas is a time to rest for most people – not least public servants. However, I’m not really one to take too long a break and so I’ve been busy over the festive period. I was sending emails to officers at NFDC on Christmas Eve to discuss flood defences (the heavy rain made this an urgent enquiry) and I found myself drumming up support all over the Christmas period for a petition I set up recently against the planned introduction of Parking charges on Lymington High Street.
That petition now has over 350 signatures and I am hopeful of it reaching 500 before the Full Council meeting of Lymington and Pennington Town Council on the 8th of January. You can sign the petition here if you haven’t already.
There has been a fierce discussion between different groups about the merits and problems that the introduction of parking charges in the High Street will bring. Therefore, I wanted to provide some context as to why this is planned in the first place and why I believe it will be bad for the High Street.
Firstly, this whole situation has been caused by a disagreement between two Conservative-run Councils (New Forest District Council and Hampshire County Council) about who will have responsibility for managing On-Street Parking. On-Street Parking is currently the responsibility of New Forest District Council as per an agreement with Hampshire County Council which manages Highways. However, that agreement is set to end on 1st April 2020 and Hampshire County Council is taking over management of On-Street Parking across the New Forest from that date. New Forest District Council could have extended the agreement but refused because they were unsure of the costs involved. The Liberal Democrats raised concerns about the ending of this agreement when negotiations ceased in 2018 but were stonewalled by the Conservatives (back when there were 58 Conservatives and only 2 Lib Dem Councillors).
In my opinion, Conservative-run Hampshire County Council have seen the failure of New Forest District Council to agree an extension of the On-Street Parking agreement as an opportunity to plug a hole in their budget (they have to make £80 million worth of cuts this year thanks to the government’s ideological drive to end central government funding of local government). The other reasons spouted by the Conservative leader of Hampshire County Council, such as helping the environment and increasing footfall, seems to be a desperate attempt to justify their actions rather than having any sort of serious long term plan for making High Streets across the New Forest sustainable for the future.
Currently, there is free parking on the High Street with a maximum time of 1 hour. This will be reduced to a free period of up to 20 minutes with charges applying after the 20 minutes are up. The maximum stay will increase to 2 hours with the charge expected to be £1.10 per hour. Charges will apply during business hours Monday to Friday, 9am until 6pm (see Lymington and District Chamber of Commerce for their analysis here).
I oppose the introduction of parking charges in Lymington High Street for three main reasons. One – introducing parking charges will hurt local businesses. Two – the introduction of parking charges won’t make Lymington High Street sustainable for the future. Three – parking charges will make it more difficult for elderly residents to access services.
Local businesses are the pillars holding up our local economy and it is the job of councillors to support them to thrive. If we put up barriers to people shopping in the High Street, and parking charges are unnecessary barriers, then we make it harder for local businesses to thrive. Shoppers will simply go elsewhere.
The introduction of parking charges feels too much like a revenue-raiser intended to fill a hole in a budget rather than as part of a serious plan to improve the long-term sustainability of our High Street. If the County Council are serious about supporting our town centres to thrive then they should be thinking long-term rather than short-term and prioritising pedestrian-friendly high streets with a focus on electric vehicle charging points, public transport, and cycle racks.
The introduction of parking charges will also make it more difficult for elderly and less-able members of our community to access services in the High Street. The reduction in free time from 1 hour to 20 minutes makes it impossible for anybody wanting to attend an appointment at Chawton House to avoid paying to do so. The audacity of the County Council to also say that there will be a 10 minutes free overstay – but only if people buy a ticket – is ridiculous.
This is a move by a completely out-of-touch administration interested only in counting the pennies and not bothering to think about the long-term future of our High Street or the effect on local businesses. I have set up a petition which I hope will demonstrate to the Conservative leadership at Hampshire County Council just how unpopular their decision is. I am also pushing New Forest District Council to get back around the table with Hampshire County Council to see if they will renew the agreement before it runs out in April.
However, the feeling seems to be that this is a done-deal and that any opposition from Conservative councillors on all levels will be words rather than action. I was particularly surprised when the Conservative County Councillor for Lymington and Boldre said he thought introducing parking charges on Lymington High Street was a bad thing. When he was a District Councillor (he lost his seat in May), he could have spoke out and expressed his concerns before we even got to this stage but he stayed quiet when the Lib Dems on NFDC tried to explain why not renewing the agreement could be bad for the New Forest. I’ve always felt that councillors, if they want to be effective champions for their community, should speak out before things happen rather than after them. Sadly, I think too many councillors put their party before local people. That has to change going forward if we are to stop things like this happening in the future.1 Comment