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Issue 302 – Campaign for free parking gathers pace

increased car parking charges are crippling town centre traders and more businesses will close if something isn’t done very soon.

Those were the concerns outlined at a special public debate held last week to discuss the future of car parking in the town.
The East Mendip Community Partnership was joined by the local community group, Vision 4 Frome, in organising the meeting which was attended by more than 50 traders and residents.
Peter Grayson from the Frome-based travel agents, Travel Angels, representing the Chamber of Commerce said that trade in the town centre was down 30% since car parking charges were increased and free town centre parking at Marks & Spencer was lost.
“Something needs to be done very quickly,” he said. “There is a serious problem for a lot of retailers; business in the town centre is down by 30 per cent and many of them will be insolvent if the situation continues.
“The council needs to take this on board or more businesses will start closing. There are already 16 empty shops in the town centre; this isn’t something that can drag on. Businesses are already suffering.”
He said that Frome had been hard hit because neighbouring towns like Trowbridge, Westbury and Warminster all offered low cost or free parking. And he said local town centre traders also faced unfair competition from large out of town stores which offered free parking.
John Birkett-Smith from the Cheese and Grain said the venue had also been hit since a 56% increase in the parking fees in the nearby car park.
“There has been a noticeable loss of traders and visitors,” he said, adding that he believed high car parking charges damaged one of Mendip District Council’s corporate aims of supporting the local economy.
Local traders near the South Parade car park claimed that recent changes to that car park’s charges and conditions had hit them particularly hard.
Fay Goodridge, who runs a shop on the nearby Catherine Hill, said since the changes, the South Parade car park was almost always empty. Each car parking space was bringing in just £1.75 per day, roughly 19p an hour which was ‘woeful’, she said, and it was bad for residents, local traders and for the council.
Mendip district councillor Claire Hudson, who chaired the meeting said the new parking charges had caused a lot of concern and the council felt it was important that the issue was discussed. She said the views of the meeting would be taken back to the council and would not be ignored.
She said car parks in Mendip brought in £2 million of income with costs of £1.16million. The £850,000 net income equated to 17% of council tax.
As part of the meeting, the local community group, Vision4Frome, organised an informative debate about car parking.
A number of suggestions and ideas were made which will be handed to the cross-party Mendip Car Park Working Group for consideration. Amongst the ideas put forward were:
• Various schemes to give free one hour parking;
• introducing a ‘parking levy’ on out of town stores to provide a level playing field with town centre shops;
• free parking after 4.00pm
• using a pay on exit barrier system for the larger car parks, to reduce costs and charges;
• reduced car parking charges across the board which may increase the number of people using the car park and increase council revenue;
• moving the market into the Market Place and King Street
• a scheme where traders would give refunds on car parking costs to shoppers;
• selling one hour free parking permits for the year or part of year.
• A number of changes were also suggested in the South Parade Car Park to better balance the needs of the traders, residents and the South Parade Club. These included extending the periods for non-permit parking, designating spaces for residents, and improving the permit system.