THE management of Chester's City Council run car parks is due to come under scrutiny.
A report, to a meeting of the Town Hall Executive on Thursday (November 6), follows a motion raised by critical Liberal Democrats at a meeting of the full council.
It comes hot on the heels of a decision by councillors in neighbouring Ellesmere Port to scrap car parking charges in the town.
Lib Dem group leader Cllr Paul Roberts, backed by College ward councillor David Mead targeted customer services supremo Cllr Stephen Mosley (Con, Handbridge & St Mary's) in their motion.
They asked the council to “note with dismay” the effect of what they describe as Cllr Mosley's “management” of car parking on the Chester area and on the council's finances.
The Lib Dems claim the “headline seeking Free after Three policy” has created greater rush hour congestion on Chester's roads and “substantially contributed” to the council's latest financial crisis without having any effect at all on business in Chester.
They also cite increased park and ride charges, together with the “ill thought out” proposed change to a parking charge per car at Sealand Road to the detriment of Chester's traffic and the council's finances even though the trial did not go through.
The Conservative's price freeze on car parking is claimed by the Lib Dems to be a “total failure” with the continuing disappointing use of the council's car parks “exposing the nonsense of the executive member's claims that price was the main cause of lower usage”.
Cllr Roberts asked for a full review of the council's approach to parking and park and ride which would take account of the views of the business community and other interested parties.
He suggested this should be carried out “in the interests of residents and businesses rather than the self promotion of the executive member and his colleagues”.
Cllr Mosley is due to tell the executive that use of the council's car parks has been in decline since 2003/04 “at roughly four times the rate of decline of the private sector car parks in the city”.
A review by the Tory administration has identified a phased programme of improvements including a number of what Cllr Mosley describes as “quick wins” to deliver immediate benefits.
All forms of car parking were considered including council owned city centre car parks, on street parking, park and ride and commercial car parks.
The review looked at issues including the quality and location of car parks, their customer friendliness and marketing and information.
The aims included increasing the number of visitors to Chester and the length of their stay and spend together with the use the council's car parks and how satisfied people were with them.
Improvements include an extension to the Upton Heath park and ride starting this month (November) to link with the 25th anniversary of the service, improvements at the Market car park including the introduction of pay on foot, also due this month and improved city centre signage to be installed by next March which will include the number of spaces available.
Cllr Mosley says that parking charges initiatives include freezing car park fees in the council’s car parks, issuing Charisma car parking passes with council tax bills and the Free after Three initiative.
This is said to have attracted an average of 260 extra users a day, up by 60% to 65% compared with after 5pm ticket sales in the same period last year.
The campaign is to continue until the end of next March.
A £188,000 shortfall in income includes the effects of the Hoole Bridge closure, the Free after Five and Free after Three initiatives and free parking for the Mystery Plays.
Cllr Mosley says a £336,000 shortfall in park and ride income is largely due to the greater number of passengers able to use concessionary passes.
He argues there is no need for a further review but is recommending there should be a further report next February.