The important role that car parking plays in supporting town centre economies will be discussed by West Suffolk Council’s Cabinet next week.
It will be the first opportunity that Cabinet members have had to formally consider car parking recommendations from a Car Parking Review Group plus referrals that have been put forward by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Next Tuesday, Cabinet will consider a report from its Overview and Scrutiny Committee. It has asked Cabinet to look at how much it would cost not only to keep, but also to extend the Free from 3 schemes. It has also recommended Cabinet retain free parking in Brandon. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee heard there had been two petitions, one against the introduction of charges in Brandon and another calling for two days of free parking in all West Suffolk towns.
Cllr Peter Stevens, Cabinet Member for Operations which includes car parks, said: “We recognise that each of our town centres is unique in its offer and we’ve been listening to concerns raised in response to the review group’s recommendations.
“We are mindful of the challenges facing high streets nationally which is why we will be discussing extending Business Rate Relief next week and why we continue to invest in our town centres. In Bury St Edmunds we led on the arc development which boosted town trade. We also invest in running The Apex and the Abbey Gardens as two key town centre attractions. We worked with town centre partners and our communities to shape masterplans for the future of Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill town centres. We have invested in a cinema and three key town centre sites in Haverhill. In Newmarket we will consider the feasibility for investing in a cinema later this year, while we also worked with key partners to deliver the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art as well as investing in revitalising the market. In Mildenhall we have installed new equipment and electrics for the market as well as bringing services and up to date leisure, education and health facilities together at the new hub near the town centre. In Brandon, as well as other areas, we have supported the Brandon In Bloom work which won an award as well as taking on ownership of Brandon Country Park, encouraging visitors to the area.
“Car parking tariffs are a mechanism for managing demand including the availability and turnover of spaces to support the town centre economy. While demand fluctuates throughout the year, it’s robust to the extent that the 4000 spaces we operate in Bury St Edmunds are close to capacity at Saturday lunchtimes.
“The income generated from our car parks pays towards CCTV, street cleaning, and other work to ensure our town centres are clean and safe places where people want to be. It pays for the maintenance and staffing of our car parks. We also pay close to £1 million of Business Rates on our car parks which also makes us one of the biggest contributors to the Business Improvement Districts and the work that they do to encourage town centre footfall and spend.
“Fundamentally, it is not just the price of parking that attracts people to a town centre, it is the things that the town centre has to offer including its mix of retail, cafes, restaurants, leisure and culture, heritage, markets and events including those run by the BIDs.
“We have a good working relationship with organisations such as Our Bury St Edmunds BID, Love Newmarket BID, Bury and Beyond, ONE Haverhill, town and parish councils as well the Chambers of Commerce and I expect that to continue after this – our first review in four years – has concluded. Not only do we work closely but invest close to £90,000 a year into the BIDs and Destination Management Organisations we are part of.
“With regards the two petitions, I am sure that we can agree a workable solution to support the needs of Brandon and its current car parking capacity issues.
“For those calling for free parking for two weekdays, that would effectively have to be underwritten to the tune of £1m for the year. I for one am looking forward to better understanding how this would work as I wouldn’t want to see cuts made to those important town centre services that car parking income helps support.”
Cabinet meets next Tuesday at 6pm at its offices in College Heath Road, Mildenhall.