“A bid to secure more free parking in Cheshire East towns like Nantwich in run up to Christmas has been rebuked by the ruling Labour-Independent coalition, writes Ethan Davies (a).
Conservative group leader Cllr Janet Clowes called on borough chiefs to relax some charges in council car parks in key market towns from December 3 until January 2021.
However, her plan was rejected by Ccabinet members, with Cllr Laura Crane questioning the public health implications and Cllr Amanda Stott seeking clarity over the financial impact on the council.
Cllr Craig Browne added: “We have to listen to our business community. We have had some information on footfall in principal towns. There is a 35% reduction in footfall nationally but all of our towns are doing better than that, and three have increased.” The deputy leader claimed that Middlewich saw a 17% increase in footfall in September 2020 compared to 12 months earlier — the biggest rise of any CEC town.
However, others like Wilmslow, Knutsford and Sandbach have seen a significant reduction. The Independent group leader, referring to Sandbach already having free parking, said “it does seem from this [data] that parking charges are not the principal determinant to our town centres’ recovery”.
But Conservative Cllr Stewart Gardiner said the move was more about a ‘perception’ that the council was encouraging residents to shop locally.
CEC allows town and parish councils to allocate four days a year for their car parks to be free, which are usually near Christmas.”
In response to this article, Cllr Janet Clowes stated this evening:
“Of course this is a disappointing response, to what is a carefully considered proposal designed to minimise cost to the Council whilst maximising benefits to our local economy.”
”I’m deeply concerned by the data that was hurriedly presented at Cabinet to justify the Deputy Leader’s arguments. It was poorly presented with no references to the data or methodology used. I have asked for urgent clarification on both.
In response to Cllr Stott and Cllr Browne responses, Janet explained;
“This was a strange request as the Cabinet already has direct access to the financial data they asked me for today. The high level data is I n the Notice of Motion I submitted to Cabinet which in turn is based on the Council’s own published data. Interestingly, that same data is currently informing the Council’s Parking Charges Review that is currently under public consultation and due to end in January - this project sits firmly within Cllr Bowne’s portfolio”
Cllr Rhodes suggested that free parking would create a Public Health risk but Cllr Clowes countered;
“From a Public Health perspective, the Cabinet has failed to appreciate that by adopting the recommended ‘free after three’ scheme as suggested, Cheshire East Council would be able to directly dovetail this proposal to the Government’s relaxation of permitted trading hours rules, effectively extending the shopping day. Just yesterday, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick made it clear that he wants councils to waive rules that restrict trading hours. By extending them in this way retailers are actually able to better control customer flow and maximise safe Covid-security measures.
Finally Cllr Crane (Portfolio Holder for Waste Mangement, Highways and Parking) confused matters by stating that she wasn’t sure if the run-up to Christmas was the right time to introduce a car park fee respite period, whilst suggesting that Free after Three facilities were already available.
Cllr Clowes has since responded;
“The fact is that Cheshire East Council offers a Free after Three scheme on only 6 of over 70 car parks across the Borough. Cheshire East Council’s refusal to acknowledge the importance of the run-up to Christmas to the retail industry, suggests that they have a limited understanding of the importance of SMEs to the future recovery of the Cheshire East Economy after Covid and why a number of mitigation strategies, of which a car parking fee respite period is one, are essential in achieving this”.