Cash from town centre car parking falls by £400,000 in a year
- Credit: MARIAM GHAEMI
A £400,000 fall in car parking revenue in Bury St Edmunds shows the need for government to provide greater support to town centres, a business leader has said.
The new figures, provided under Freedom of Information laws, show car parking income dropped from £3,940,527.76 in 2016/17 to £3,519,069.84 the following year.
The historic market town consistently bucks the national trend for the decline of the high street, with the town also enjoying a record-breaking year for tourism in 2017 as the number of trips to Bury grew by 11.4% to 829,000.
However the decline in parking revenue mirrors a decrease in town centre footfall of 4.5% on last year.
St Edmundsbury Borough Council said in the short term it could manage this reduction in income - which helps fund work in the town centre - and would work with partners to avoid this becoming a longer-term trend.
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But Mark Cordell, chief executive of the Ourburystedmunds business group, said: “It’s concerning. It’s predominantly concerning because there’s so little we can do about it. We are in the hands of landlords and local and national government really.”
He said eight key units in the town centre remain empty, including Laura Ashley and Palmers, adding high rates and changing shopping habits are among the challenges facing our high streets.
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“It’s undeniable for footfall and car parking revenue 2016 was the peak in recent years.
“I obviously hope the current situation is a short-term correction and that we can look forward to returning to previous highs, but it would be naive to think that’s going to happen on its own without some intervention from national and local government and commitment from customers to shop physically in their town centres.”
While revenue for Bury St Edmunds town centre car parks is down, the number of transactions remained steady, with 2,224,528 in 2017/18.
Sara Mildmay-White, deputy leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, stressed Bury St Edmunds is performing well when compared to many other towns regionally and nationally.
She said: “As the transaction figures show, our car parks are well used and more and more people are choosing the value for money option of weekly tickets which is something that we continue to encourage.
“What is clear from analysis of our own car parking figures is that there is more demand on our car parks on Saturdays and whenever a town centre event is held and we shall be meeting with the BID [Ourburystedmunds] to discuss ways on ensuring this success continues.”
Ms Mildmay-White said tourism plays a big part in the ongoing success of the town centre economy and was one of the reasons the council organises the annual Christmas Fayre.
“We are confident that Bury St Edmunds town centre will continue to be a place that people will enjoy coming to, not just to shop, but also to relax enjoy the Abbey Gardens, see performances at the Apex, the Theatre Royal, visit Moyse’s Hall, the Guildhall, the cathedral and many of the other wonderful attractions that we are so lucky to have here.”
She added no decision has yet been made with regard to building another car park in the centre and “we will continue to engage with our town centre partners before making any decisions on this”.