Tuesday, November 24, 2015

News: Council considers parking initiatives

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Free parking across the board would "probably" boost trade in Rotherham town centre, but if it was introduced, a £400,000 surplus generated for the Council would turn into a deficit of approximately £500,000.

Rotherham is a Portas Pilot town and one of the key recommendations in the Mary Portas High Street Review was that high streets and town centres should have the flexibility to introduce local parking initiatives to boost trade. This is particularly pertinent to Rotherham, given the proximity to Parkgate and Meadowhall, both of which have a free parking offer.

Members of the Council's Improving Places Select Commission are looking at the issue of car parking in relation to the local economy and businesses located in the town centre.

Initial investigations into the issues of charging and enforcement policies should determine the future scope and benefits of an in-depth scrutiny review.

Findings show that the authority has no current written policy on parking provision but work is ongoing to formulate such a policy. This process involves consideration being given to the contribution that parking provision makes to the local economy and the Council's overall transportation policy.

Previous decisions on town centre parking had to take into account transport policies that were designed to boost the use of public transport along with encouraging employees to cycle to work, which resulted in incrementally higher car parking charges for longer stay parking.

A number of parking intiatives have been introduced in recent years in an effort to support the businesses in the town centre. The Council is again offering free parking on Saturdays in the run up to Christmas and free, limited stay parking is set to continue on Forge Island.

A report is due to be delivered to Commissioners in December which will make recommendations on tariff changes to achieve savings as well as a free Saturday parking offer - potentially all year round.

The impact of initiatives has been difficult to assess. Car park usage had increased when seasonal free parking was on offer but it was difficult to attribute this to parking being free or the general busy festive shopping period.

The Council accepts that free parking "probably" would increase economic activity and could be a positive that would benefit the town. However, officers and councillors agree that any move to free parking – even on a localised scale – would have to be very carefully monitored and managed and be left in place for a some significant time in order to assess its genuine effectiveness.

A council report also adds: "It should also be recognised that an "across the board" free parking offer would result in the annual surplus which is currently generated by the Parking Service being reduced from its current level of approximately £400,000 to a deficit of approximately £500,000."

Recommendations from the initial work of the select commission includes working on a coherent policy on parking, continued discussions with town centre traders and visitors on the issue, and the understanding that free parking initiatives should be carefully monitored to assess the impact in terms of increased trade and usage.

Rotherham town centre website

Images: RMBC

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