“We have had a good discussion”. Those were the concluding remarks of the chair of Shropshire Council’s Place Overview Committee this morning. And with that, the scrutiny committee voted not to intervene in a parking policy that is set to damage our town. This means we will have the highest parking charges in the county outside Shrewsbury. And they will apply on-street in the town centre until 8pm. In all other market towns, charging will end at 6pm. These charges are being introduced, we were told, with the support of Ludlow residents.
The meeting began with a clear and forceful presentation from Ludlow’s Mayor, Tim Gill. Then it trod water quite a lot. A technical presentation on why the charges are being structured the way they are was lost on just about everybody. There was no real debate. Viv Parry and I joined the table to make points from time to time but were not part of the committee.
The only explanation for why the charges in Ludlow town centre will be the highest outside Shrewsbury – £1.80 an hour – was that was needed to allow residents to park close to their homes when they want to. There was almost no recognition of the need for our town to trade and welcome visitors.
Officers said they had held a meeting with a small group of residents just last Friday. The committee was told that residents came around to the idea of supporting evening charges on town centre streets. How odd then that the minute of that meeting records:
On the… issue of linear charging [officers] were reluctant to accept our arguments that the [Red Zone] charges should not be extended from 6pm to 8pm. But we continued to press the case, particularly in support of the activities of Ludlow Assembly Rooms in the evenings.
That doesn’t sound like support to me. When I read this out at the meeting, there was silence around the table. We know there is near universal opposition in Ludlow to extending parking charges until 8pm in the evening.
The council has shifted its position on some of the changes to parking during the consultation but on some issues, including parking in the Red Zone, the council is only hearing what it wants to hear.
One of the consistent messages from the extensive consultations on this scheme was the need to retain Castle Street as a short-term car park.
Officers said it was important that people used the park and ride and explained how difficult it was to find a space in the Castle Street car park when they had visited Ludlow. So why didn’t they use the park and ride? Probably for the same reason that others don’t when they are coming to Ludlow for only a short period.
We heard about fiddling of parking in Castle Street car park. People allegedly buy a four hour ticket and then a second ticket before the four hours expires. No evidence was produced to support this and no one has been fined for it. The council’s solution to this apparent problem is to make the car park into long stay.
Pop and shop, currently a free 15 minutes of parking, will be cut back to 5 minutes. We had one small clarification that is a gain. Notices will be put in place to advertise that people can remain parked for an extra ten minutes after the five minutes has expired. This is because national rules dictate that parking wardens must observe a vehicle for ten minutes before issuing a penalty charge notice. But it will still be off putting to shoppers if they find a warden hovering over their car after just a few minutes.
Other than Councillor Hannah Fraser, Lib Dem for Abbey Ward in Shrewsbury, councillors on the Place Overview Committee did not want to challenge the policy. They were content to review the impact of the scheme in “six months” after its implementation. That will not be six months after its implementation in Ludlow, which is next September. It will be six months after the scheme is rolled out countywide. So, the earliest the review will take place is mid-2019. Officers have said that they want 12 months of data before the impacts of the scheme are examined. So, we are not looking at a review until 2020 on my reckoning.
By then damage will have been done. Experience across the country shows that trade lost to a town is not easily regained. Once again, Shrewsbury is saying that it knows what is best for Ludlow without having an inkling about how our town ticks.