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Could free car parking save the high street?

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Space exploited: Temporary free parking on Boulevard St Brieuc

Space exploited: Temporary free parking on Boulevard St Brieuc

LAST week, Plaid Cymru called on the Welsh Government to set up a new fund to enable local authorities and community groups to offer free car parking in towns throughout Wales to support local shops and businesses. Plaid Cymru’s Assembly Member for Ceredigion, Elin Jones, has suggested that free parking in towns across Ceredigion could keep our town centres bustling.

Elin Jones told The Herald: “Wales has more empty shops on its high streets than the rest of the UK, and the Welsh Government could potentially support the high streets in order to keep them as a vibrant economic hub. We’ve seen the shape of our high streets change over the past few years. Places like Aberystwyth and Cardigan have seen a big turnover in shops. This may be down to more people moving online out of convenience. For example, foot fall in Aberystwyth is down by almost one-fifth since 2012. We need that extra incentive to get people in our towns, and free parking could do just that.”

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, Sian Gwenllian, said: “By allowing local authorities and community groups to provide free parking for shoppers, we can help level the playing field for high streets and get shoppers back there. Plaid Cymru wants to see the Welsh Government set up a fund to help local authorities cover this cost. And we can do even more. We can lower business rates for small businesses and bring 70,000 of them out of paying rates altogether, and we can try to plug the £500 million funding gap that small businesses face by establishing a properly funded Welsh Development Bank, in order to lend to small businesses and help them grow. We can’t overlook how important the high street is for the well-being of a local area. A bustling high street often indicates a vibrant local economy, so it’s important that we do all we can to save the high street.”

WIDESPREAD CONCERN

Over the past year, the number of people shopping on the high street has declined UK-wide, posing a major problem for retailers. Fuelling that problem are said to be worries about the economic outlook, and most recently concerns over Brexit, combined with an increase in shopping on the internet. While expenditure in retail outlets declines, however, people are still spending their increasing disposable income on leisure and eating out. Overall footfall was down 0.9% in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period a year ago, according to analysts from Ipsos Retail Performance. However, some cities and towns are doing much worse than this national average suggests. In England, the worst performers are Newcastle upon Tyne, with shopper numbers down a hefty 9.95% and Stoke-on-Trent, down 8.1%. Compare these with Elin Jones’ claim that Aberystwyth footfall is down by 20% and it puts the town’s problem in startling perspective.

Across the UK even discount chains such as Poundland are feeling the pinch, with sales slowing. According to the Local Data Company, in April this year across the UK, some 46,000 shops stood empty, with approximately one-third of those have been so for more than three years. The national vacancy rate stood at 12.5%. With free parking, easy access and more space, retail locations outside of town centres are increasingly popular among those shoppers not filling their baskets online. The Office for National Statistics reported online sales rising almost 9% in March compared with the previous year. And online stores accounted for 13.2% of all retail sales. Famously, Mary Portas attempted to spark a resurgence of high street shopping in provincial towns. Places that have paid attention to shoppers’ needs, and so improved facilities, have managed to maintain footfall.

CARMAGEDDON!

Back in 2011 through to 2012, Aberystwyth conducted its own involuntary experiment in radical free car parking, which left our own special little skid-mark in the history books. Lest we forget, a bureaucratic mix-up between Dyfed-Powys Police and Ceredigion County Council resulted in there being no traffic warden employed for a year. By many accounts, the result was chaos. However, some retailers did report that the experiment was good for business. If that 12 months was chaotic and did cause some people inconvenience at times, civilisation as we know it did not end and the town survived. Unfortunately, at least to The Herald’s knowledge, the experience of the community self-managing parking was not documented in terms of the extra parking places that were creatively carved out of the urban landscape without undue disruption. Neither was the impact on retail businesses measured for comparison. To credit our competitors where that is due, the Cambrian News’ Street of Shame feature, where badly parked cars were pictured with their registrations revealed, surely aided in the community’s efforts to deal with the antisocial in ourselves. Overall, for at least some people, it was quite an entertaining year.

IDEAS FOR ABER?

‘Carmageddon’, as christened by that esteemed periodical The Daily Mail, has little to do with Plaid Cymru and Elin Jones’ suggestion for doing away with paying for parking in towns. But is free parking relevant in Aberystwyth? We do not, after all, have parking metres or ticket machines on the streets of the tow, but rather parking that is limited to two hours, one hour or the deadly thirty minutes. Free parking in local authority car parks further out of town might conceivably lessen the load on the streets, however. Plaid Cymru’s proposal is for the Welsh Government to contribute to the provision of such free parking. They do not expect County Councils to provide a ‘freebie’ and therefore have to cut other services any further. It does, of course, cost a significant amount of money to maintain any car park, free or otherwise.

Current difficulties in Aberystwyth have certainly been exacerbated by the loss of the Mill Street car park which had 265 spaces. Ironically, the retail development on the site of the Mill Street car park is likely to put further pressure on some hard pressed retailers in the town. When it opens, however, the new £40 million development will have 555 spaces and will be by far the biggest car park Ceredigion has ever seen.

The Herald understands that it is written into the contract for the Mill Street site that the parking spaces will be free and allocated on a three-hour basis. There is an option to reduce this to two hours if the car park becomes 85% full. Moreover, there is no compulsion for those parking in the new car park to shop at M&S or Tesco.

Shoppers can still go into town to buy their underwear and groceries. To turn a famous slogan around, for our local retailers, every little helps.

Coincidentally, then, even as Plaid Cymru suggest more free parking, Aberystwyth is on the verge of getting an extra 290 parking places compared with before the Mill Street development. Tesco is on schedule to open before the end of November, with the car park opening perhaps a fortnight before that. M&S is set to open in spring 2017. Whether encouraging more cars into town makes sense from a retail point of view or not, it certainly is not good news in terms of cutting carbon emissions to mitigate climate change nor in reducing local pollution. Town and County Councillor Mark Strong told The Herald: “I’m not in favour of free car parking. I am not convinced it will help increase footfall and in my opinion will encourage car use.” Mark Strong is concerned that more cars will mean more congestion and more pollution and so would actually put people off visiting towns like Aberystwyth.

If Ceredigion could come up with a scheme to benefit those coming into town to shop with a car full of people and/or penalising drivers who travel solo, that might make good sense. Similarly, if parking privileged smaller eco-friendly cars over big fat gas guzzlers, that could work to create space and reduce pollution. Some models of car on the road in 2016 were definitely not designed to be driven on narrow Welsh roads, nor small town streets. To help local retailers, however, radically lowering business rates might be the most supportive thing Ceredigion could do. Herald readers, especially local retailers themselves, are welcome to suggest other measures by writing to our letters page. Readers may also like to suggest a name for the Mill Street Development. Suggestions that we have received already range from the architecturally critical through the politically bitter (ill feeling over the demolition of the day centre and people’s homes refuses to go away) to the more constructive and forward looking. But what do you think?

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Ceredigion gritters prepare for Winter with a visit from ‘Goldie’

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AS WINTER maintenance training preparations continue, a specially-painted golden gritter named ‘Goldie’ visited Ceredigion on 2 October to mark Econ Engineering, UK’s biggest manufacturer of gritters, 50th anniversary.

‘Goldie’ is spending the autumn visiting local authorities across the UK as they prepare for the winter ahead.

Ceredigion County Council prepares for winter all year round; salt replenishment starts in early June to ensure that by the time winter begins stock levels are up to approximately 10,000 tonnes. This is the amount of salt that gives Ceredigion the resilience it needs if it cannot secure additional salt supplies during the winter season in a timely manner.

The winter service fleet is operated by 51 qualified gritter drivers and maintained by 9 mechanics who all work on a rota basis over the winter period. There are 10 primary gritting routes covering 437km of Ceredigion’s roads, including the Trunk Road network.

One of the first tasks for the winter service team is to ensure that over 400 Grit bins across the county, which are for the motorist to use, are filled and any damaged bins replaced. Depending on the severity of the winter and the availability of resources, these bins may need to be replenished again during the season.

Councillor Dafydd Edwards is the Cabinet member responsible for Highways and Environmental Services and Housing. He said: “Although autumn has just begun, our staff have been preparing for winter for many months already and now are taking the next step to ensure our winter fleet is ready for any frosty occurrence. Training is being completed and maintenance checks are being carried out on the gritters. Our fleet consists of 10 frontline gritters, 5 situated in each of the north (Glanyrafon) and south (Penrhos) depots and 7 reserve gritters.

“The decision as to whether gritters are deployed depends on what information is received from MetDesk, our weather forecast provider. Each day during October through until the end of April, the council will receive three forecasts a day. This information is analysed by a group of experienced duty officers, who are on duty 24hrs a day, to determine whether a gritting run is required or not.

“Having Goldie here has been a timely reminder that winter is on the way and the council is doing everything it can to minimise disruption to travelling over the winter. If you are a motorist, it’s also time for you to be mindful of how you should prepare for winter too – in the way you drive during icy conditions.”

Andrew Lupton Econ Engineering Sales Director said, “Econ Engineering has worked with Ceredigion for many years now and we’re delighted that Goldie has been able to make a guest appearance as preparations for winter get into full swing. Ceredigion has always shared Econ’s own belief in the important role that technology and innovation can play in keeping winter roads safe and the council has taken great care to specify that their Econ vehicles are fitted with the most up-to-date technology. We have fitted the fleet of gritters with high-tech kit including navigation aids for the drivers, which ensure gritting routes are treated accurately across the region, both maximising road safety and minimising the impact of salt on Ceredigion’s environment.”

For more information on Highways During Winter and advice on driving in Winter go to https://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/travel-roads-parking/highways-during-winter/

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Trains could be opening from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth

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THE REOPENING of the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway is not only possible, it’s now on the cards. This was the message of a meeting at Plaid Cymru’s Annual Conference in Swansea, arranged by Ben Lake MP, Elin Jones AM and Traws Link Cymru.

The meeting came after the publication of the Welsh Government’s rail strategy document, ‘A Railway for Wales – Meeting the needs of future generations’, in which the Welsh Government states that it wants to ‘improve connectivity on the nation’s key corridors – especially the western corridor from Ynys Môn to Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and Swansea Bay.’

Over the years, Plaid Cymru has secured commitments by the Welsh Government to invest in scoping, feasibility and technical studies. It has also made several manifesto pledges to reopen the line.

The inclusion of the rail route in the Welsh Government’s rail strategy document is a major step as it lists, for the first time, that the re-opening of the line is part of the Welsh Government’s overall transport plan for Wales.

Ben Lake MP said:

“I am grateful to Mike Walker and Geraint Blayney for preparing such a detailed presentation, and indeed to the entire campaign for working so diligently to ensure that this important proposal receives the attention and consideration it deserves.”

Elin Jones AM said:

“It’s great to see that the campaign to reopen has now for the first time been given official status within a Government transport strategy.

“Whilst Welsh Government had commissioned both a scoping study and a full technical feasibility study for the reopening in recent years, it is only now that they have included the line as part of its future thinking.

“It will be for Westminster Government under the current devolution settlement to fund new rail infrastructure, but Welsh Govenrment has a role in ensuring that it is high on the agenda for rail investment.”

Mike Walker, a campaigner for Traws Link Cymru said:

“Following the Feasibility Study into the re-opening of the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway that was published in 2018, and which showed that there are no insurmountable engineering problems associated with the re-establishment of the line, Traws Link Cymru is further encouraged by the recent document released by the Welsh Government  “A Railway for Wales: Meeting the needs of Future Generations’.

“This outlines future Strategic Corridor Developments for Wales including enhanced connectivity from Ynys Mon, through Dolgellau, Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, to Swansea and South West Wales. For the first time, the Welsh Government has publicly acknowledged the need for a north-south rail corridor, a key element of which is the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line that has been the focus of the Traws Link Cymru campaign.

“The onus is now on the Welsh Government to accept that the re-opening of this railway line is a transport priority for Wales, and to seek funding from Westminster to deliver the project.”

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Hate Crime Awareness Week 2019

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NATIONAL Hate Crime Awareness Week will take place from October 12 – 19  this year. Ceredigion County Council is highlighting the campaign by reminding residents of what is a Hate Crime and signposting people to the necessary support; whether they may be a victim or a witness to a hate crime incident.

Ellen ap Gwynn is Leader of Ceredigion County Council and Members’ Champion for Equalities. She said: “We will not tolerate any form of Hate Crime in Ceredigion. Everyone should be respectful of each other’s individual characteristics and beliefs. This national week of raising awareness is an important reminder to us all that we need to live in harmony with each other to make our communities safe and prosperous places for our residents to live in without fear.”

Hate crimes may be physical or verbal attacks, threats or insults that are motivated by the victim’s age, disability, ethnicity, religious belief or non-belief, sex or gender identity or sexual orientation.

Hate crimes can be any criminal action that is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice and hatred.

Kay Howells is the Mid and South West Wales Community Cohesion Coordinator. She said: “Hate crimes often go unreported, leaving offenders free to commit further offences. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a hate crime, please make sure that it gets reported. By reporting these offences a picture of the number, type and range of incidents taking place in Ceredigion can be recorded, enabling resources to be targeted in order to deal with them.”

If you are in immediate danger call the Police by dialling 999 (non-emergencies 101).

You can make a report online using the Victim Support website, http://www.reporthate.victimsupport.org.uk/ this can also be made anonymous if that’s better for you.

Alternatively, you can call Victim Support directly 24 hours a day on 03003 031 982. If you would like support they can arrange this at the same time as making the report.

Visit the council’s Hate crime page for more information: http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/your-council/strategies-plans-policies/equality-diversity/hate-crime/

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