Free parking gesture is a ‘kick in the teeth’
Four days of free parking in the next 12 months has been described as “a kick in the teeth” for Congleton during an “emergency retail situation” and is not going to encourage a steady stream of shoppers into the town.
That was the response after Cheshire East Council announced the series of free parking days as a way of saying thank you to residents “for their support and patience during the challenges of the pandemic and lockdown”.
The measure was first introduced in 2016 to help give towns and high streets an “extra boost and flexibility”.
Announcing the four free days of parking on Thursday, Coun Laura Crane, Cheshire East's Cabinet member for highways and waste, said: “The primary purpose of this incentive is to support our towns and provide a flexible incentive which can be used in the run up to Christmas or spread throughout the year to aid key town events. This is in addition to the free parking after 3pm at certain designated car parks within the borough.”
But Mark Winder, who runs the Bear Grylls café on Market Street, Congleton, said: “I think I speak for most business in town about this. It's a massive kick in the teeth. It's like kicking someone when they're down.
“We are in an emergency retail situation and all Cheshire East can do is give us four paltry days of free parking out of 365. The council is trying to do something that's right, but not in an emergency retail situation and it won't benefit the town whatsoever.”
Jackie MacArthur, Congleton Town Council's marketing an events manager, said of the four free parking days: “It's nothing new. Anything helps and we welcome anything that's a positive move.
“We used them in previous years for Congleton Pride and the Christmas lights switch-on.
“While we try to attract shoppers into town as the lockdown is eased, we would like to have seen one or two hours' free parking.”
Mrs MacArthur said that along with other towns in Cheshire East, Congleton was looking to see what it can do to encourage a steady flow of people into the centre rather than mass events which would see it packed for a few hours.
“We've found that although mass events fill the town centre with people for a few hours, it's not very good for traders,” she said.
She added: “We've not planned any big events yet because of the social distances measures that could still be necessary. We want to focus on encouraging a steady stream of shoppers into town generally and four days of free parking in the next 12 months won't do this.”
In Congleton, the car parks authorised for the incentive will be the fairground, Back Park Street and Princess Street.
In Macclesfield it will be the car parks at Duke Street, Exchange Street, Churchill Way, Park Green, Sunderland Street, town hall and Whalley Hayes.
The car parks in Crewe will be the civic library, Gatefield, Holly Bank, Delamere Street, the lyceum and Wrexham Terrace.
Nantwich's car parks will be Snow Hill, Civic Hall and Bowling Green; Coun Crane added: “The offer of free parking will be considered on those car parks predominantly used by shoppers and the parking services team would welcome advanced liaison from the relevant councils and notice of the chosen days. This is to ensure there are no other programmed events taking place.
“The days chosen by the participating councils will follow consultation with their elected members, event organisers, local shops and businesses and charity event organisers.
“In return, the council requests feedback on these initiatives to ascertain their effectiveness for both shoppers and businesses.”
To maximise the number of free spaces for shoppers and visitors, the free parking will start after 10am. Participating town councils will be asked to advertise and promote these free days on the designated sites on the days in question and then remove these materials in a timely fashion afterwards, to avoid any confusion for service users.
Mrs MacArthur said that during free parking days that had happened previously, banners went up to inform people but it was found they were paying to park anyway as they were not sure if it applied to them.
“We also had to see if the money and time to promote it was worth it,” she said.
She added: “The four days of free parking is a step in the right direction but we would like to see a lot more.”