Suffolk: Business leaders would like to see free parking scheme investigated to help reverse high street trends

Business leaders have said they would like to see an innovative free car parking scheme investigated

Business leaders have said they would like to see an innovative free car parking scheme investigated here in Suffolk - Credit: Archant

BUSINESS chiefs have called for an innovative free parking scheme across the border in Essex to be investigated in Suffolk as a way to revive struggling high streets.

Tendring District Council’s initiative has seen town centres buck the national trend, encouraging shoppers to visit their local retailers.

Business leaders in Suffolk last night said the success of the scheme “bursts the balloon” of those who claim there is no correlation between free parking and increase in footfall.

In July last year Tendring issued all council tax paying households with a permit – allowing people to park for free in 25 of the authority’s car parks from 10am to midnight all year round.

A recent survey has hailed the initiative a success, with around 50% of all businesses noticing a higher footfall through their town centres and 30% saying they have seen a rise in the number of customers through their doors. The scheme is costing the district council around £350,000 but leader Peter Halliday said they were keen to see it continue.

Business leaders in Suffolk last night said they would be keen to explore the idea on this side of the county border.

Mark Cordell, chief executive of town centre business improvement group Bid4Bury, said: “This scheme is a great example of the local authority listening to, and acting upon, the views of businesses. It is no surprise no me that it has been a huge success and bursts the balloon of those who claim there is no correlation between free or cheap car parking and increase in footfall.”

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Naomi Tarry, chairman of Aldeburgh Business Association, said: “Support like this can have a significant impact on the vitality of small towns and so I’d be interested in exploring it further with our district council.

“We need to think in new ways about how we can support independent traders and this is a good example of innovative thinking.”

Fiona Wright, head of marketing at Ipswich Central, said any initiatives to try and boost footfall were welcome. “If it is financially viable for a council to do that then it’s a great idea because it keeps people shopping locally,” she said. “However we also need initiatives to bring people in from out of town and we have been working very hard with the borough council to achieve this.”

Andrew Rowdon, chairman of Felixstowe Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said anything to help boost trade would be positive and he would be interested in learning more about Tendring’s scheme.

Sudbury councillor Tony Platt said he was pleased to learn of the success but they were keen to attract visitors from outside the district.

“But, the principle of free parking is something we agree with,” he added. “We accept there has to be some charges for long-term car parking but we are working to keep it free for the first three hours. This encourages people into town and means they have time to wander around and not feel pressurised.”

Representatives from the county’s borough and district councils said they were already working hard to ensure parking was kept as cheap as possible and that they were committed to creating vibrant and successful town centres.

A Babergh spokesperson said they were one of the few councils that still offered free short stay parking, while one of its staff car parks at its headquarters in Hadleigh was free to the public. “In addition, anyone parking in our long term car parks in our market towns can also park for free for the first three hours,” they said.

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal said the council’s estimated net income from car parks in 2012/13 was about £1m. “Any reduction by introducing a scheme along the lines of Tendring would inevitably have serious consequences on our other services,” he said. “Not having a charge would inevitably result in problems in car parks as spaces would be filled for longer, meaning that potential shoppers or visitors would be unable to park.”

A decision by St Edmundsbury Borough Council on free or subsidised car parking in Bury St Edmunds on one day of the week is due to be made at next week’s full council meeting. A spokeswoman was unable to comment further last night.

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said as well as people living in the town they also needed to attract others from elsewhere.

Since the start of the year the authority had introduced a car parking charge of just £1 an hour in its short stay car parks, he said, increasing visitor numbers from 16,000 to 24,000 and driving down prices in privately owned car parks.