Have you say on the price of parking in Northampton town centre - you've earned it
The uproar of voices from businesses and shoppers has been heard by Northampton Borough Council.
Under the weight of comments from businesses, traders and readers of the Chronicle & Echo, the borough council has thrown out its much-criticised plan that included raising car parking prices to a flat £4 for three hours.
Instead, it has offered a new “£1-an-hour” scheme.
And this time Northampton residents will have their say on how much they will pay to park in the town.
The borough council has given residents until May 3 to make their thoughts known on a public consultation.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a mixed reaction to the new plans.
So how will the new proposed charges affect shoppers, workers and visitors?
The biggest change is there will be no free parking for the first two hours in any multi-storey car park Monday to Friday.
For anyone who needs to pop into town on a lunch break or run an errand in the week, this means parking in town will cost a £1 an hour.
Instead, on weekends, the first two hours in multi-storeys will be free and then cost £1 an hour after that.
Rob Purdie, chief executive at Northampton Business Improvement District, met the council to help shape the new charges.
He said: “Businesses felt that while having two hours free parking was a huge positive, it was misleading, as any-one staying up to a minute longer (up to three hours) is currently charged £2.40.
“Businesses told us that customers regularly stop shopping to rush off and get the free parking and avoid the huge hike in price.
“The new proposal is to charge £1 an hour, which is a far simpler structure.
“There is a consensus that if we have to charge then this is a simpler structure and does not encourage shoppers to cut their visit to the town short.”
But some businesses are still concerned.
“On weekends, shoppers always have their eye on their watches checking when the parking runs out,” says Nina Neophitou, owner of Dream Coffee Lounge in St Giles Street. “Many customers will leave town early or run off to put more money in the parking.
“If the first two hours are free, that to me encourages people to leave rather than encourage them to stay.
“It could put them off staying for lunch. It might put pressure on them and put them off sticking around.
“But any changes to parking affect business.”
One interesting change appears to be an effort by the council to free up the car parks in the centre of town for shoppers offering cheaper places for workers who plan on parking all through the working day.
All-day parking in any council car park outside the “inner ring road” would drop to £6. Car parks inside would stay at £8. The council hopes to make it cheaper for workers to park outside of the town centre and free up spaces for shoppers.
It says that the council’s plans for improvements will make visiting town a better experience in the long run, and the new charges are necessary to that.
In total, the council wants to find £770,000 to renovate the town’s car parks.
This includes installing new pay machines with options for card payments, major concrete repairs in Mayorhold, replacing 10 lifts across Northampton and resurfacing the exit ramp in the Grosvenor Centre.
The council argues if it does not make a change to parking charges its only option would be to hike council tax, which council leader Jonathan Nunn called “not acceptable”. If it removed all charges, it would leave a £3.38 million gap in its funding, based on figures for 2017-18.
Councillor Nunn said: “Some of those who contacted us wanted no changes to parking charges, or their removal.
“If we didn’t charge for parking, this would mean either a significant reduction in the services and support we provide, or a huge hike in council tax, neither of which are acceptable – or even possible – in our opinion.”
But this all comes after the Conservative borough council raised the price of parking all day by £1 in 2018, and adding a £2 to park all day on weekends in multi-storeys. This itself was all with a mind to raising £800,000 a year.
Meanwhile Liberal Democrat councillor Sally Beardsworth has criticised the council for not being up-front about raising the prices during the elections in 2015.
She said: “The Tories made the promise to keep free parking in their manifesto last election and now they have gone back on that promise.
“If they had just come out from the start and raised the charges on parking they could have done all these improvements they want to make already. However, I quite like the idea of paying what you use. £4 for four hours is a good price."
But the most important change of the new charges is that, this time, Northampton will have a chance have its say. The public consultation is open on the Northampton Borough Council website, available at the URL printed above this article.
However you think the charges will affect the town, tell the borough council what you think.
The weight of feeling from the public, shoppers, retailers, politicians and the Chronicle & Echo led to the borough council rethinking the plans and engaging in proper consultation... so now the onus is on everyone to take the time to air their views again.