I believe we need to adopt a more shopper-friendly approach, to assist traders and shoppers alike. For our town centre to thrive we need a more flexible parking policy, with free parking in designated car parks after 4pm and more free parking days during less busy periods. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our town, but they need our support.
I welcomed the decision taken by Cheltenham Borough Council in early February 2016 to offer free parking for visitors after 6pm. It is a positive step, but something that should have been done well before now. Laying out their budget for the year ahead, the Council announced that they are set to offer free parking for visitors after 6pm instead of 8pm, bringing Cheltenham's finishing times into line with neighbouring towns such as Gloucester and Tewkesbury.
However, despite this progressive common sense step, I repeat my calls for parking charges to come down. I welcome any move to make parking in Cheltenham less expensive. But in reality we should have ended parking charges after 6pm a long time ago, as is the case in Gloucester and elsewhere. I hope the Council will now go further. It will still cost £10 to park all day on a Sunday in Cheltenham, compared to just £2 in Gloucester. So, whilst I welcome this move by the Council, there’s much more still to do. Parking is still too expensive in our town.
Not only this, but I am making noise here in Parliament to make sure we are on the radar for this funding. At the end of last year, I quizzed BIS Minister Anna Soubry MP on the issue of parking charges in Cheltenham. My question was as follows:
‘Cheltenham’s superb range of shops and small businesses rely for their success on people getting out from behind their computers and physically visiting local shops. Does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities should promote flexible and, above all, cheap parking wherever possible to support small businesses and shopping hubs such as Cheltenham?’
To which the Minister responded:
‘I fear that, as ever, I am a bit off message. I take a radical approach to parking. As far as is ever possible, I take the view that there should be no parking charges in any towns. The car parks belong to the people—they absolutely do. There are times when a local authority wants to put in car-parking charges—a very good example being in Rushcliffe—to make sure that people do not abuse them, but, as far as possible, we should be supporting our great town centres and our great small businesses. We should not charge people for the luxury of parking in their own hometowns.’
This was a robust response from the Minister, and I absolutely share her instincts for low parking charges. Cheltenham’s shops are a crucial part of what makes our town so special. I believe we’ve got to get behind our small businesses and the shoppers who visit them.
Let's bring down parking charges in our town, and together keep Cheltenham on the map.