The Cheshire East Conservative Group carefully designed a proposal for some free car parking over December and early January to help boost our local retail economy which has been ravaged by Covid restrictions and encouraging residents to ‘Shop Local’ without compromising on safety.”.
A formal ‘Notice of Motion’ was submitted in November, in advance of Cabinet on December 1st so that Cheshire East’s Labour/Independent Cabinet would have time to implement this very straightforward but important scheme. Despite the advanced submission, the Cabinet refused to consider the scheme on December 1st but the Portfolio Holder for parking, Cllr Laura Crane, suggested suspending charges was “an option for the future”, thus it was hoped that Cabinet might reconsider over the next week but they issued nothing but press releases seeking to justify their refusal and non-action on reasons that simply do not hold up to scrutiny.
It was very clear that by 16th December, (the date of Full Council when all Notices of Motion must be dealt with), the opportunity to safely implement the scheme had passed and Cllr Janet Clowes (Conservative Group Leader) and Cllr Stewart Gardiner (Conservative Dep. Group Leader), had no option but to withdraw the Motion.
Janet read the following statement to Council expressing the Group’s disappointment at Cabinet’s refusal to act:
“We submitted this Notice of Motion in November, a week before the December Cabinet, in good faith, to provide enough time to introduce what is, in essence a very straightforward proposal.
Introducing a ‘free after three’ scheme on a number of selected Cheshire East car-parks, over a four to five week time-frame was designed to minimise cost to the Council whilst maximising benefits to our local economy.”
“The deliberate refusal of Cabinet to deliver the scheme is deeply disappointing when similar schemes in Trafford and Shrewsbury have proven successful and we were both surprised and disappointed with the reasons given for refusal at the December 1st Cabinet meeting. (These can be found in the recording of the December Cabinet meeting)
1. Cabinet wanted clarity on how much the scheme would cost
Yet Reference 3 in this Notice of Motion is a direct link to the Council’s own Car Park Income Summary for each of the past 3 financial years for each of its car parks. It provides more than sufficient information and location data to determine costs based on which car parks best serve the retail areas of our town centres.
2. It was suggested that a Free after 3 scheme already exists in Cheshire East.
Yes it does, but on only six of over 70 car parks owned by Cheshire East - this is not comparable with our proposed scheme.
3. It was suggested that such a scheme could create an enhanced Public Health risk
BUT almost immediately
4. It was suggested that Town Councils could use the 4 ‘Free Parking Days’ offered by Cheshire East Council each year in the run-up to Christmas instead.
Again 3 or 4 days of free car parking is not comparable with the scheme we proposed and I am deeply concerned at this suggestion in the current Covid-climate.
Our scheme spread the incentive to visit town centres Monday to Saturday afternoons and evenings, over 4 - 5 weeks. The focus on just a 3 or 4 days as suggested, actually increases the likelihood of customer congestion on streets, in shops and breaches in Covid security measures.
5. Furthermore our suggestion to enhance the offer by extending retail hours in line with Government’s relaxing of permitted trading hours, was rejected out of hand, despite the relaxing of planning obligations and the potential for safer control of customer flows.
6. Finally Cllr Craig Browne presented a graphics slide showing data related to footfall, as evidence that free car parking has no impact on footfall in town centres.
The slide was forwarded to members and additional data was provided to me on request which I am happy to forward to members. Cllr Browne was correct in saying that there was a ‘Month on Month’ rise in footfall in many CEC Towns during August to October but this MUST be looked at alongside the ‘Year on Year data’ !
Only data for the 3 months of August to October (2019 and 2020) was provided. But the data is clear.
When compared to 2019, Footfall fell in ALL towns for August in 2020 - but our larger Towns were more adversely affected.
September and October 2020 again showed lower footfall in all towns, with the exception of Handforth, Middlewich and Poynton which is more likely to reflect residents heeding Government advice to shop closer to home.
We make no claims that free car parking will improve on 2019 footfall figures but in a covid environment, free car parking is a useful and proven mechanism (along with temporary pedestrianised streets, extended opening hours, and business grants) to support struggling SMEs whilst encouraging residents to ‘Shop Local’ without compromising on safety.”
Janet concluded: “In short, this was an important opportunity for this Council to support its SME retail businesses upon which it is economically dependent - Empty shops do NOT provide employment and do NOT pay business rates.
With Christmas just a week away, it is now sadly too late. The very real benefits of this scheme have been deliberately ignored and ‘pushed into the long grass’ by this administration on spurious and inaccurate grounds - almost certainly because it was a ‘Conservative’ idea. Short-sighted Party Politics has resulted in an opportunity lost and it is our High Streets and Residents who will suffer.”
Cabinet: 1st December 2020 (Minutes and Meeting Recording)
Full Council Meeting: 16th December 2020 (2nd Recording: NoM no.2)