Last month, Shropshire Council announced changes to parking charges across the county, including Ludlow. (See my earlier blog for the details.) Charges in the town centre will increase while charges for parking around the centre will generally fall. Time limits on parking will be abolished on the streets and in the car parks. This move, and the high charges on town centre streets, will damage local trade, as will reduction of free pop and shop parking to just five minutes.
The changes are being driven by the Shropshire Council’s need to raise more money for highways and related projects in a time of savage expenditure cuts. The council also wants to standardise charges across the county and to control length of stay through charges alone. Some of the proposed changes don’t work for Ludlow and will damage our local economy.
The council proposes ending restrictions on how long vehicles can park. The council’s dogma is that price alone is sufficient to encourage turnover of vehicles. I doubt that will be the case. The model is untested and doesn’t operate this way in other towns and districts that have implemented linear parking. They have mostly kept length of stay restrictions where they are needed.
Currently, people parking on streets in Ludlow’s Blue Zone can only park for 2 hours, except for residents with permits. Shropshire Council’s plan is to allow non-permit holders to park for as long as they wish at a charge of £0.70p an hour. This means that parking on Lower Galdeford will only cost £1.60 a day more than on the top deck of the Upper Galdeford car park. Workers will be able to buy season tickets to park in the Blue Zone for as little as £2.80 a day. These changes are likely to reduce turnover in the Blue Zone, restricting the availability of on-street spaces for residents and shoppers. The current arrangements work for Ludlow. The only case for changing them is the council’s obsession with standardising arrangements across the county, including abolishing limits on maximum stay under its linear pricing scheme.
Ludlow is the only town outside Shrewsbury to be singled out for evening on-street charges. For other market towns, the council says “parking will continue to be offered entirely free of charge in the evenings.” But in Ludlow on-street charges will be imposed until 8pm in the core town centre – the Red Zone. Charges will also zoom upwards to £1.80 an hour. This makes no sense to me.
The council argues the move will encourage drivers to use the car parks to reduce on street congestion and give improved availability to resident permit holders. Its paperwork makes no mention of the likely impact on trade in the town centre and our night time economy. I have not the slightest doubt that the higher and extended charges for the Red Zone will be bad news for Ludlow’s daytime and evening economy.
The council also proposes to drop the four hour limit on parking in the Castle Street car park, where it will cost £1 an hour in future. This could reduce turnover and again hit trade. It is a good decision that residents and visitors will not be able to by season tickets for this car park. Parking will also be free after 6pm, helping visitors to the Ludlow Assembly Rooms, pubs and restaurants.
But parking charges will apply in town centre streets until 8pm. Ludlow is the only town outside Shrewsbury where this will apply. Shropshire Council says this will help residents find a space. It seems unaware that the greatest pressure on evening parking for residents is in the Blue Zone. Residents in the Red Zone tend suffer more from parking problems in the day, some caused by workers who do not live in the town centre who nevertheless hold a residents’ permit.
I am baffled why Ludlow is to be penalised like this. In Bridgnorth, a town that has more traffic than Ludlow, drivers will be able to park on the High Street for free for 40 minutes through the day and without limit in the evening.
That also means that Bridgnorth will retain an effective pop and shop arrangements adjacent to the main shops. In Ludlow, and elsewhere with parking charges, the pop and shop period will be reduced to five minutes. The council’s argument for cutting pop and shop from 15 to five minutes is that government regulations ban enforcement officers from slapping a penalty charge notice on a vehicle until 10 minutes after the permitted period for parking has expired. So, the council says, this will be in practice be retaining 15 minutes pop and shop.
This is a disingenuous and devious argument. By arguing that the period will be 15 minutes rather than five, it is openly encouraging drivers to flout parking regulations and break the law. That is not a moral position for a council to take. And I very much doubt that Shropshire Council will be erecting signs informing people of their right to overstay by ten minutes.
The council’s all but abolition of pop and shop will hit town centre trade. Everyone has seen civil enforcement officers hovering over cars during the ten minute observation period. Shoppers are going to be put off coming into our town if they see a traffic warden waiting to pounce after just five minutes.
Of course, Shropshire Council will gain more income from penalty charge notices applied after the five minute pop and shop is implemented. But that income will be nothing more than a tax on our local economy.
It is striking that there is no detailed discussion in the cabinet papers on parking strategy of the impact on the economies market towns like ours. This shows how out of touch Shropshire Council has become with the market towns and the way they work. Its main concern seems to be its own income not supporting the economy of our county.
What we need to get the right deal for Ludlow. We need four essential changes to get a policy that will work for Ludlow. All will promote turnover in streets and car parks for the benefit of traders and residents.
- Retention of short-term parking restrictions in Castle Street car park, and on Red and Blue Zone streets. These could either vary as at present or be standardised at, say, 3 hours.
- Retention of the 15-minute pop and shop period.
- No season tickets for parking on-street in the Blue Zone.
- The Red Zone should be reclassified as Band 3 – meaning that the charges will be the same as the Castle Street car park. Again, no season tickets should be available.
. Parking income can only be spent on administration, maintenance and enforcement of the parking regime; highways; and a limited range of environmental improvements. It cannot be allocated to run other services.
. Linear pricing operates in other towns and cities. Shropshire Council suggest that they the inspiration for the model it wants to implement. It has cited Dover and Warwick as role models. Both restrict the length of time vehicles can park in town centre areas. In Dover, 8 of 14 car parks have short-term parking limits. In Warwick, 6 of 13 car parks have length of stay restrictions. There are many other examples, mostly in the south of the country.
. Based on an annual season ticket for the Blue Zone over 200 days.
. The council has yet to announce fees and arrangements for resident’ permits.