Cllr Les Ford says he 'cannot bring it about by magic wand'
THE campaign to bring free all day parking back to Ellesmere Port continues.
Three former councillors from the now defunct Ellesmere Port and Neston authority are determined this issue will not go away.
Continuing the debate for free car parking in the town, Jonathan Starkey, John Wilson and Henny Moore have again been out and about in the town centre distributing thousands of leaflets to shoppers and businesses alike.
Their first shot was to ‘Ask Asda Why?’ arguing it is ‘not fair’ that customers have to pay to shop in the town, while at Asda Birkenhead they are refunded parking fees if £5 is spent.
An Asda spokesman said:“We would love to be able to let the people of Ellesmere Port park for free when visiting their local Asda store. Unfortunately, as this is a council-owned car park the decision is out of our hands.
“We would however be very happy to work with the council on finding a solution to this problem”.
Undeterred, the campaigners have now turned their attention to the borough’s finance chief, ex Vale Royal councillor Les Ford and have encouraged shoppers to ‘Ask Les Why?’.
Campaign spokesman Jonathan Starkey said: “We wish shoppers and businesses to ask Cllr Ford to explain why Ellesmere Port town centre car parking cannot be free.
“Footfall for businesses would increase tremendously.”
Former councillor John Wilson said: “When we first met Cllr Ford to forward the views of the majority of residents and businesses for free car parking, he advised us that he didn’t see why the town centre parking couldn’t be free but has failed to take action. ”
“We’re not getting at Cllr Ford but questions do arise,” said Jonathan Starkey. “Some of the questions the public put to us were:
“Why are the ‘Free After Three’ signs not more prominently placed in the town centre?
“Why don’t the parking machines offer change?
“Why do the parking machines issue tickets after 3pm, do we still have to display a ticket?
Mr Starkey added: “This is a national problem and it has been recognised by the Government with Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, recently issuing guidance asking local authorities basically to be friendlier to motorists and tone down on traffic wardens as it is affecting town centres badly.
“My question is, will the council listen?”
Cllr Ford argues his comment was made at the start of the new council. “Since then we have been overtaken by national austerity,” he says.
“Despite having saved some £113m over the past four years we have had to reinvest some £40m in adult social care and children’s safeguarding .
“The net saving of around £70m amounts to 25% of our net budget and the latest output from Whitehall requires us to find further savings of £50m over the next three years. Achieving this degree of savings will be no mean feat and in these circumstances hard choices have to be made.”
He suggests the ‘relatively low’ charge for parking and the ‘Free after Three’ concession ensures that car parks in the centre of Ellesmere Port are well used and that the removal of charging would not make a significant difference.
He also says there would be no economic benefit to the town itself but any loss of income would have to be found by savings elsewhere with ‘possibly damaging consequences’ to other services.
“We are between a rock and a hard place,” Cllr Ford candidly admits.
“Despite my general inclination in favour of as little charging as possible for car parks, I cannot bring it about by some magic wand.”
Cllr Lynn Riley (Con), parking portfolio holder, told the Pioneer: “There is free parking in Ellesmere Port. It happens every day after 3pm to try and provide a steady flow of shoppers to our retail centre.
Making it clear the council is keen to listen, she added: “The council’s approach means we can have a real community-wide discussion about what's really important to people in Ellesmere Port.
“One that everyone gets to have a say in. This way we can target where the priorities and spending really need to go.
“If the residents of Ellesmere Port want us to redirect funding to provide free car parking in the town centre, well let’s have that conversation but on the understanding that some other things may change along the way like the free residents parking scheme or some of the other great initiatives that take place across the town.”
There are 1,170 council parking spaces across the town centre.