There is no longer any doubt that the parking regime introduced last November is damaging Ludlow’s independent traders. Ludlow Mayor Tim Gill told BBC Radio Shropshire last week that trade was down 13% before Christmas and 16% after Christmas. This was despite the mild winter. Roger Curry, owner of Bodenhams, told the station the new charges mean that people are always in a rush and don’t linger long enough to spend money (begins at 1:47).
These comments come ahead of a review of the parking regime imposed on our town by Shropshire Council last November. That regime increased on-street parking charges in the town centre to £1.80 an hour and the charge in Castle Street car park to £1.00 an hour. The pop and shop concession was reduced to from fifteen to five minutes. Charges on the Linney and Coronation Avenue substantially increased.
Next Wednesday, 5 June, a Shropshire Council committee will conduct the first review of the charges. Please let me know any additional comments you have before then.
The changes to parking charges introduced last November led to a huge protest in the Market Square. Shropshire Council received so many comments from traders and residents, council officers struggled to deal with them. The charges haven’t settled in well.
It is easier for town centre residents to park. Many want more permits for guests and family. Some have complained about the unwarranted increased cost of a permit to £100.
But the new regime has made it harder for short term shoppers to park. That has dented trade which is lower than last winter and spring despite much milder weather and an absence of snow events. Of course, income for individual businesses will go up and down. But the Ludlow Town Council survey shows a drop in footfall and takings across most of the independent traders in the town centre.
We are a town of around 5,000 households with maybe another 2,000 households coming to the town for daily or weekly shopping. Despite our small size, we have had a thriving market and around 80 independent retail, food and service businesses in the town centre. We have three butchers and three bakers. A local food market twice a month. Two greengrocers. A bookshop. Photo gallery. Wine shop. Award winning Delis. Antiques and much, much more. Far bigger towns than us would envy our independent shopping offer.
None of this would exist without the dedication of local people who shop local and visitors who love local shops.
Without this trade, our town centre will die. We don’t have enough people to sustain a high street of chain stores. We don’t want a high street of chain stores. We are Ludlow, not a clone town.
We need a better park and ride service. That’s not up for review at this stage. It has been on Shropshire Council’s long list of “things to do” for a while. I would like to see a more direct 20-minute frequency service from the Eco Park to the town centre during the summer months.
We need more parking. That can be achieved within existing space by repainting lines in all car parks and introducing a one way system on the top deck of the Galdeford car park.
We can also be more friendly towards visitors. That means lowering on-street charges. £1 an hour will be okay in the Red Zone. We need to stop the daily slapping of fines on vehicles in the market area by being clearer about where you can park and not park. The town council has a plan for this but that doesn’t seem to be making any progress. We should look at introducing half an hour free period in some areas.
We should stop assuming everyone can walk or hike from a car park to their shopping destination. For many people, walking can be a challenge.
We need to go electric. There are plans for an EV charging point in the Galdeford car park. Just one. Only one. We need several.
We need to slow traffic down on the approach roads and side streets so that people feel safe.
But our immediate action must be to get Shropshire Council to rethink the hike in parking charges and the reduction of pop and shop to a barely useable five minutes (there is an extra ten minutes observation time, but no one wants the panic of seeing a civil enforcement officer hovering over the car).
If our local traders put up the shutters, we will have a town centre like so many others. Shops that flit in and out. Betting, charity, cheap booze and pound shops. All of these can have a place in a town centre but they are not destination shopping. We must not become like Eccles or Northampton. We are Ludlow. Unique. A distinctive shopping experience. We need to celebrate that. We need to preserve it.
Shropshire Council must work with us on parking charges, not against us. It needs to make the charges work for Ludlow. Once a town centre dies, it is almost impossible to revive it.
There will be a second review of the charges in after the summer.