One of the pioneers behind the ‘Free after 3’ parking scheme believes city centre shops will suffer if it gets scrapped by Labour-led Cheshire West and Chester Council.
Businessman Stephen Wundke, the former city centre manager, does not believe the stated motivations behind a whole raft of proposed car parking measures – for him it is all about revenue raising.
However, the council insists it is driven by a desire to even out unfairness by creating a single borough-wide pricing policy, improve the quality of parking facilities, address the demands of motorists and businesses and tackle congestion.
Among the other controversial proposals are:
■ Introduce on-street parking charges in Chester only
■ Start charging at free council car parks in Hoole, Frodsham, Northwich and Winsford
■ Introduce parking charges for disabled drivers who are Blue Badge holders.
Among the most contentious elements is a proposal to scrap ‘Free after 3’ car parks in Chester and Ellesmere Port and come up with a range of discounts including a four-hour deal after 3pm because the free scheme is judged to be adding to evening congestion.
Mr Wundke, who helped develop the idea when city centre manager, said if the council was really bothered about congestion it would not have backed a housing scheme off the busy Wrexham Road that will see 1,400 new houses and another 3,000 cars on a road that is already jammed in the rush-hour.
“This is about revenue raising and nothing else,” he said.
He said ‘Free after 3’ was proven to have incentivised residents to use their local shopping centre by combating the draw of out-of-town shopping malls which offer thousands of free parking spaces around the clock.
The vision was championed by Chester’s former Tory MP Stephen Mosley and the late Eric Langton, former editor-in-chief of Chester Chronicle who later became chair of Chester Renaissance.
Concerned about the impact on small city centre businesses if it went, Mr Wundke said: “Shoppers won’t pay. The point is, they don’t have to pay. It would have a huge effect.”
The council also wants to introduce parking charges in car parks for Blue Badge holders to contribute to parking provision and enable investment to be made to improve the size, quality and number of disabled spaces across the borough. At the moment they can park free of charge for up to four hours.
Keith Roper, chief officer with Chester-based disability charity DIAL House, said: “We would like to congratulate the council on its recent European Access City Award and will be holding them to account over continued improvements in future and will happily express concerns about the arrangements for Blue Badge parking.”
Cllr Karen Shore, cabinet member for environment, said: “Our population and car ownership rates are steadily rising and land available for car parking is decreasing.
“Over the coming years, the council needs to find ways to invest in additional parking provision, improve the quality of car parks, support local business, manage traffic flow and reduce congestion, while at the same time protecting the environment and public health.
“There is an imbalance at the moment, as residents and businesses in some areas are paying for parking and others are not.
“It is important to stress that at this stage we are only consulting on the proposals made by the independent consultants and no decisions have been made.
“They include some better alternatives to current parking concessions that will appeal to a wider range of motorists and help to cut congestion, while continuing to support businesses.
“We are seeking the views of all interested parties and we will be having conversations with groups representing the disabled to obtain their views on proposals to charge Blue Badge holders for parking which has been introduced in other areas across the country.”
A number of drop-in sessions are taking place across the borough to give residents the opportunity to give their views. For more details and to offer comments, visit: www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/parkingstrategy or email: email@example.com
People can also call 0300 123 7024 or write to: Parking Services, Cheshire West and Chester Council, 4 Civic Way, Ellesmere Port, CH65 0BE
The consultation ends on February 24, 2017. The new parking strategy will be finalised in the middle of next year.