Independent shop owner calls for free parking to help get businesses moving following pandemic

Jill Barrett is leading a campaign for free parking Picture: MICHAEL GRIST

Jill Barrett is leading a campaign for free parking Picture: MICHAEL GRIST - Credit: Archant

A director of one of Suffolk’s best known independent stores is launching a campaign for free car parking to help small businesses fight back following the coronavirus pandemic.

Jill Barrett, director of home furnishings department store Barretts on The Thoroughfare, Woodbridge, is asking East Suffolk Council to change parking fees which she believes is actively putting people off visiting the riverside town.

Car park fees were suspended by East Suffolk for a period during the pandemic - while most businesses were closed - but have since been reintroduced.

Mrs Barrett argues that other councils are offering help to local business such as in Bury St Edmunds where free parking is provided in all council car parks after 3pm on Tuesdays.

In Ipswich, Crown Car park is offering five hours of free parking from June 15 until July 3.

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Mrs Barrett said: “It feels like Woodbridge is getting a rotten deal in comparison.

“Woodbridge car parks were only free when most shops were closed. Now they are tentatively reopening and the support isn’t there for them.

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“Our competitors are the large out-of-town shopping centres which have a huge advantage over high streets in that they can offer free parking as well as benefit from rock-bottom rent and rates.

“What I am asking the council for is help to even out this imbalance by offering free parking for shoppers for a certain amount of time.

“This would be especially helpful for small and medium independents to get back on their feet after the Covid crisis.”

MORE: Survey finds 90% of people in Woodbridge will shop locally after lockdown

James Lightfoot, chairman of Choose Woodbridge said: “One of the reasons some town centres are struggling is the difficulty and cost of parking.

“People can buy on the internet without leaving their sofa and they can drive to the out-of-town retail park and park for free outside the shop door.”

Norman Brooks, East Suffolk Council’s cabinet member for transport, said the right balance had to be struck on parking.

Mr Brooks said: “The suspension of car park charges was intended only as a temporary measure and charging is an absolutely critical part of our ability to maintain facilities which are hugely important for our communities.

“As we start to see more businesses reopen, our main aim is to protect people and support our local businesses by finding the right balance between maintaining access and ensuring there is enough car parking for everyone.

“Research carried out by our Economic Development team in 2019 does not support the claim that free parking alone will help our town centres.”

MORE: Riverside restaurant owner praises community support after staff are made redundant

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