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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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Walk-in testing now available for Aberystwyth town

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From today [Wednesday 30 September 2020], people in Aberystwyth with symptoms of COVID-19 can access testing (through a booked appointment) via a temporary walk-in facility in the town.

Hywel Dda University Health Board has arranged this extra testing service in addition to the drive through facility already in place at Canolfan Rheidol, because many residents in the town, including students, do not have their own private vehicle in order to access the drive-through testing facility.

The facility is located in the former university nursery building (behind, but not connected to, Padarn Surgery), Penglais Road, Aberystwyth and can be accessed via the walkway which will be clearly signposted to ensure people get to the right place.

Alison Shakeshaft, Director of Therapies & Health Science at Hywel Dda University Health Board said: “We have put this extra facility in place to make sure those in the local community without their own transport are not missing out on getting a test when they need it.

“We appreciate the efforts people are making to help protect each other during this challenging time. I urge everyone to remain vigilant and follow the rules, including wearing face coverings where required, keep social distancing, washing hands regularly, or using a hand sanitiser if hand washing is not possible, to help us live and work alongside the virus whilst containing its spread.”

Eifion Evans, Ceredigion County Council Chief Executive said, “We thank Hywel Dda University Health Board for providing extra testing service in Ceredigion. Residents and students alike are urged to utilise this service for the health of everyone living in our county and we are able to protect the vulnerable. This is a critical time for us to follow the rules and keep Ceredigion safe.”

Anyone who has symptoms of the virus (a new persistent cough, high temperature or loss/change of taste or smell) must book a test as soon as possible through the online UK portal at www.gov.wales/coronavirus.

Please make sure when booking your test that you select the option you need (for example, only book the walk-in centre if you are not able to travel in your own vehicle to the drive through facility). If you attend the walk-in centre you must wear a face covering.

University students with COVID-19 symptoms, when booking a test, are required to provide the temporary local address they are living at while they are students at Aberystwyth university and not their usual home address.

Please do not book a test if you do not have COVID-19 symptoms and do not turn up without booking first as it will not be possible to accommodate you without an appointment.

Please follow the latest self-isolation guidelines which can be found here.

Thank you for helping to #KeepCeredigionSafe.

For the latest news and updated from Hywel Dda University Health Board visit www.hduhb.wales.nhs.uk

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Adjustment to Safe Zones

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In August, temporary traffic orders were introduced so that Safe Zones for four Ceredigion towns could remain for up to 18 months subject to regular reviews so minor adjustments can be made.

In line with the evidence collected on the use of the towns, Ceredigion County Council feel the need to keep the safe zones in place for the time being. Aberaeron and New Quay will continue as they are.

In Cardigan the closures will change to 11am until 4:30pm Monday to Saturday. The safe zones will not be in place on a Sunday in Cardigan. These adjustments will come in to force on Sunday morning, 04 October.

In Aberystwyth, additional parking has been implemented for the disabled and blue badge holders in Chalybeate Street close to the Care Society Mobility Centre.

Further enhancements to provide better access for the disabled and blue badge holders will also continue to be explored.

Safe zones were introduced in Aberaeron, Aberystwyth, Cardigan and New Quay on 13 July to create safe and spacious areas for the public to visit and provide the confidence that social distancing can be maintained in these areas.

Safe zones will be in place until at least 01 November 2020 and reviewed fortnightly in line with the infection rate and available evidence.

More information can be seen on the safe zones web page: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/SafeZones

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Our responsibility to follow the new Wales coronavirus measures in order to Keep Ceredigion Safe

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The Welsh Government is bringing in new coronavirus measures to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus.

To help further prevent the spread of coronavirus, new measures were announced by the First Minister which will come into force at 6pm on Thursday, September 24, 2020:

· Hospitality businesses in Wales will have to close at 10pm and provide table service only.

· All off-licences, including supermarkets, will have to stop selling alcohol at 10pm.

We are also being asked to think carefully about making journeys: only travel where it is essential to do so. The fewer people we meet and the fewer journeys we make, the safer we all are.

The Welsh Government have also introduced the following measures:

· A new £500 payment to support people on low incomes who are asked to self-isolate if they have coronavirus;

· Strengthened regulations to ensure employers support people who need to self-isolate.

The new measures are part of a package of co-ordinated actions to control the spread of coronavirus and it is essential that we all play our part in order to keep Ceredigion safe.

These new measures are to be introduced alongside those that are already in place:

· Keep a 2m social distance from each other when out and about.

· Wash your hands regularly.

· Wear a mask in indoor public places, shops and on public transport

· Only meet 6 people indoors from your extended household (not including children 11 and under).

· Do not meet with more than 30 people outdoors.

· Work from home, wherever possible.

· Think carefully about making journeys: only travel where you need to do so. The fewer people we meet and the fewer journeys we make, the safer we all are.

We need everyone to follow the rules and guidance and to take the steps to protect them and their loved ones.

Together, we can keep Ceredigion safe.

All the latest information and advice regarding the coronavirus can be found on Ceredigion County Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/Coronavirus. The Council’s Corporate Contact Centre number is 01545 570881.

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