The Society has written to Wakefield Council setting out our response to the proposals to change car parking charges across the District. This is an extract from our letter:
Wakefield Council’s proposed changes to car parking charges
I am writing to you to express the Society’s concerns about the proposed changes to car parking charges, particularly in Wakefield city centre, our primary focus as a charity (rather than the other towns in the district).
Having consulted with my fellow committee members and invited comments from our general membership, it was agreed that I should write to you rather than complete the on-line consultation as the way the questions are set up does not really allow for a full statement of our views on the subject.
While we are sympathetic to the Council’s need to balance its books, we cannot support the proposals to introduce new parking charges. Parking charges should be used as a tool to either ration access to parking where demand exceeds supply or to deter motorists from using their cars altogether, although in the latter case, charges always almost inevitably hit people on lower incomes hardest and can only act as a deterrent when suitable alternatives are readily available. Given that there is little evidence of demand exceeding supply in Wakefield, and we assume there is no intention to try to deter motorists from using their cars to come into Wakefield through the introduction of these new charges, the proposals do smack on an unwarranted attempt to take income from motorists purely to bolster the Council’s income stream and as such, the proposals are, in our view, unjustified.
In terms of the proposal to introduce charging for overnight, Sunday and Bank Holiday parking at the Council's current pay-and-display car parks and for on-street parking, we think that such a move would be a further blow to local businesses and will dis-incentivise people from coming into the city centre. Many of our members say quite simply that they will go elsewhere or stay at home if the charges are introduced.
While there may be an element of sabre-rattling in this, it would seem reckless in the current economic climate to run the risk of driving people away and we have to acknowledge that, perverse as it may seem, people are prepared to travel to Meadhowhall and White Rose shopping centres, impervious to the travel costs incurred, because of their resistance to paying parking charges. And when it comes to restaurants there are just too many other places outside the city centre for people to go where no parking charges would be payable.
In contrast to what the Council is proposing, we would even advocate that the Council should be considering introducing limited free parking during the daytime, Monday to Saturday, possibly by introducing disc parking similar to schemes already operated by a number of towns and cities. It can be profoundly irritating to have to pay 90p to park in one of the Council’s car parks to pop into a shop or drop something off when you know you’ll only be there for around 5 minutes, especially when the shop doesn’t have what you want! How many of us have suffered that fate, I wonder? No surprise that people are increasingly ordering goods on-line and having them delivered, very often free of charge. We need to address this and one way would be to allow people to come into the city centre, stay for a short time to conduct their business and then drive away without incurring a parking fee. In the longer term, this will probably bring in more people and support local businesses that, in a virtuous circle, then draw in more people who are prepared to stay longer and pay for their parking. (You may not be old enough to remember the time when Wakefield boasted of itself as the ‘City of Free Parking’ and all letters posted in Wakefield were franked with that boast at the Post Office?)
As a small charity, the introduction of any sort of additional parking charges for evenings will hit my committee of volunteers who will have to pay to park their cars when they attend committee meetings (a tax on volunteering!) and is likely to make it harder for us to attract people to our evening events and activities. I am sure that we are not the only group that will be affected in this way. Charges will also impact negatively on audiences for the Theatre Royal, Wakefield Cathedral and other places of worship in the city centre.
All the current research on how to revitalise urban centres points to making them places where people come for the overall experience; where there are things to do, places to eat, and opportunities to meet others while socialising in a relaxing and attractive environment. With the downturn in high-street retail, which appears to be a continuing trend, it is ever more important that planning authorities do everything in their power to facilitate this transition, rather than driving people away. There has been a welcome upturn in investment in the city centre – a number of quality restaurants, cafés and bars are opening and we wish to see this continue. The introduction of evening parking charges could well have a negative impact on this resurgent evening economy while free parking on a Sunday is, we believe, seen as one of the benefits of shopping in Wakefield.
Of course, tinkering with parking charges is not the answer in the longer term: we need planning policies that encourage city living and which put a brake on further suburban sprawl and the development of out of city centre business parks and retail centres. The sort of large cul-de-sac estates favoured by the major housebuilders on their developments around Wakefield cultivate car use and make multi-vehicle ownership almost a necessity for many families.
We need to show people that Wakefield is an exciting place to visit, to live in and to do business in. We should be encouraging businesses into the city centre to create daytime demand for services and retail in the heart of the city. Once we have a vibrant and possibly 24/7 city centre that attracts people in sufficient number to see the local economy really take off, it might be possible to look again at the introduction of parking charges for evenings, Sundays and Bank Holidays, although the coming of the autonomous car summoned by an app on a smart phone might yet render all parking charges irrelevant!
As for the introduction of charges at Wakefield’s parks, again, we have to ask what the purpose is. Is it really a need to ration access? We appreciate that some people may well park at Thornes or Holmfield Parks for the day while walking from there to their jobs in the city centre or at local employers in the neighbourhood but feedback from the Friends of CHaT Parks suggests that this is not a problem – and it is unlikely that commuters are using Anglers to park their cars for the day. Again, our view is that we should be encouraging people to use these facilities, not taxing them for doing so. (Even if charges were to be introduced, it would be necessary to give people sufficient time to enjoy the facilities and to recognise that some people will visit for the best part of the day: three hours free parking is probably not enough.)
So, to conclude, we do not support the proposals, either in their entirety or in part and we urge the Council to abandon the plan.
Kevin Trickett, President.