Campaigners hit back at council claims that free parking won’t bring back shoppers

The Woodbridge Thoroughfare during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak Picture: CHARLOTTE

The Woodbridge Thoroughfare during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: Charlotte Bond

A new survey has said shoppers in Woodbridge would be encouraged back by free parking – in contrast with council research which says it wouldn’t ‘in isolation’.

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

Business association Choose Woodbridge asked 325 people living and working in the town a series of questions about parking after businesses there launched a campaign to lobby East Suffolk Council for free parking to encourage visitors following the pandemic.

Last week, the council said its own research had shown free parking alone would not bring people back to high streets and that other measures such as parking enforcement were also important.

The new survey found 80% of respondents were put off shopping locally by the current charges.

People were also asked whether they would shop more regularly if local car parks were free, 75% said it was highly likely they would.

Jules Button from the Woodbridge Emporium Picture: PROMINENT

Jules Button from the Woodbridge Emporium Picture: PROMINENT - Credit: Archant

Of those surveyed, 40% believed that if East Suffolk were to offer some free parking, that it should be indefinitely, while a further 36% believe that it should last for up to six months.

Business owner Jill Barrett who has led the campaign, said: “The council based their opinion on research they carried out in 2019 but with all due respect, the world has changed in the last few months and this research no long reflects the behaviour and attitude of shoppers.

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“As Woodbridge comes out of this totally unprecedented pandemic, we need more support to get businesses up and running.”

District councillor Chris Mapey, who runs The Angel pub and is a director of Choose Woodbridge, said the results contradicted the council which argued last week that there was “no evidence” the charges put people off.

He said: “I am very supportive of the survey results and will now be speaking to the council to ask for further clarification on their position. We must do everything we can to support and promote the town and get businesses back on their feet.”

Jules Button, who runs the Woodbridge Emporium added: “The council need to take a look at the economy and realise that encouraging people back into town centres is the best way to help it recover,” she said.

“Parking doesn’t need to be free all day; perhaps just three hours a day would encourage shoppers to visit Woodbridge.”

East Suffolk’s response

Norman Brooks, cabinet member for transport at East Suffolk Council, said: “Whilst we recognise the importance of reinvigorating our high streets, and are undertaking a huge amount of work in this area through a variety of funding schemes, our evidence shows that free parking, in isolation, does not provide a solution.

“Three million parking tickets were purchased last year in East Suffolk and 75% of them were for shopping or leisure trips of up to two hours.

“However, we are acutely aware of the need to listen and understand parking habits and we have carried out extensive research asking a range of different questions which drilled far deeper in to the subject than cost.

“People told us that they want better enforcement of parking rules and new technology, including phone apps, which mean they don’t have to carry loose change and can ‘top up’ without returning to the car.

“With this in mind, we have rolled out the ‘Ring Go’ parking app which is increasingly more helpful for people who do not wish to use ticket machines or may need longer to shop than they expected.

“We have also invested £250,000 in a new on-street enforcement team who ensure that roads are not impacted by illegal parking or drivers overstaying in free parking places. In Woodbridge, there are actually 146 free parking bays and when actively enforced, these bays offer nearly 1500 parking slots across the course of a day.

“We are also currently consulting on the introduction of half an hour’s free parking widely across the district as we know that there are many occasions when visitors simply want to ‘pop in’ to towns if they need to collect or buy something quickly.

“Meanwhile, our revised tariffs would see parking typically cost just one pound an hour or less on average.

“We entirely understand, and it is only natural, that people will always want to pay less for something. However, this particular issue is far less straightforward than that and we are following comprehensive data which we believe is in the best interests of our market towns and their visitors.”