Town braced for parking chaos

By Sharon AsplinA TOWN is bracing itself for traffic gridlock this morning with the closure of two car parks and the loss of hundreds of parking spaces.

By Sharon Asplin

A TOWN is bracing itself for traffic gridlock this morning with the closure of two car parks and the loss of hundreds of parking spaces.

Colchester Borough Council is already widely criticised for its handling of traffic congestion in the historic town and bosses will be holding their breaths to see if Colchester grinds to a halt in this morning's rush-hour as drivers compete for fewer parking spaces.

Essex Police urged motorists to plan ahead as there will be 800 fewer spaces in the town centre from today.

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It follows the temporary closure of the council-run St Mary's car park, which shut from midnight with the loss of 600 spaces, and the nearby private Sheepen Road site, which catered for more than 200 cars, and is due to close permanently from today for redevelopment.

The potential for traffic chaos is also expected to be compounded by the number of children returning to school after the long summer break.

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Karen Ainley, president of the Colchester Chamber of Commerce, said the business community would mainly feel the loss of the Sheepen Road car park, used for cheap, long-term parking.

"It's the loss of those 200 spaces which really concern us. The people who use that have known for some time it is going to close, but there really is a problem with cheap long-term parking in the town," she added.

"Any loss of car parking spaces is regrettable, especially if it affects businesses. However, the main impact, from a chamber member's point of view, seems to be on the Mercury Theatre as theatregoers will not be able to park at nearby St Mary's car park."

Richard Gower, the council's portfolio holder for planning and transportation, apologised for "any inconvenience" caused by the temporary closure of St Mary's car park.

"This is essential maintenance work which needs to be carried out to ensure the building is safe. It also gives us the chance to improve the appearance of the car park and I am sure once the work is complete, users will find it is much improved," he added.

Mr Gower admitted it was unfortunate that the closure of St Mary's car park coincided with that of Sheepen Road, but stressed he had no control over a private business.

"I think there would be an impact whenever we did this, but we are trying to get the work done before the Christmas rush," he pledged.

"We are looking to have park-and-ride facilities, but sadly there's nowhere else in Colchester town now where we could put extra parking.

"We just do not know what will happen on Monday, but people are very adept at finding solutions. A while ago when there was a collapsed sewer in Butt Road the town just stopped, but the next day the traffic problem had gone because people had made other arrangements."

Colchester Borough Council said St Mary's car park had shut until further notice, although it hoped the car park would reopen at the end of October.

A spokeswoman added: "The temporary closure will allow essential maintenance work to be carried out to the building as well as a major internal facelift, which will enhance the facility for users.

"This work follows the refurbishment of St John's car park last year and extensive testing and investigation into the internal condition of the structure. Temporary road signs are now in place advising drivers of the closure."

The council urged motorists to use other car parks around the town centre and said provision had been made for season ticket holders in other car parks.

An Essex Police spokesman said: "Obviously these closures are likely to decrease places available for parking and we would advise people to think ahead about where they are going to park.

"We would also warn them to leave in plenty of time and be patient. But, at the end of the day, it is a matter for the borough council."

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