Open letter regarding Parking Strategy in response to CH1ChesterBID's Carl Critchlow from Cllr Karen Shore

7 July 2017

Thank you for your letter. While I am disappointed with the manner in which the letter was sent to me I will endeavour to set out the Council’s position. The Parking Strategy is about our vision for how we will improve our parking facilities and the service we deliver across the borough to support businesses, residents and visitors through modernisation and ongoing investment over the next 15 years.  
Let me start by making this clear – the Council is absolutely committed to supporting local businesses, increasing footfall and retail spend in the city, and indeed across the borough, and continuing to create a thriving economy.
Anyone who doubts that should look at the amount of investment that is taking place in incredibly difficult financial times. We’re taking forward the Northgate development after years of uncertainty, long-held dreams of the return of a theatre are now a reality, funding for a new bus station was secured and we’re investing in large-scale public realm improvements like the amphitheatre and Frodsham Street to name just a few.
We’re also investing heavily in our Park and Ride sites, we’ve introduced the PSPO to help support the fight against antisocial behaviour in our city centre and we’re already rolling out new technology to car parks across the city.
We are not just proposing to scrap Free after 3; we are proposing to replace it. 
Analysis strongly suggests that Free after 3 is having only a limited impact, while contributing to the evening peak in traffic and air pollution.  The time spent in the city by those using ‘Free after 3’ is short – in most cases less than an hour - whereas research shows that dwell time is a key factor in successful retail centres, including the High Street.  
Indeed, even if we look at footfall using the CH1ChesterBID’s own monthly statistics, there doesn’t seem to be any discernible rise in the city centre linked to the 3pm watershed, or between 3pm and 4pm. The number of people steadily rises throughout the morning, peaking at around 1pm but you would expect to see a spike after 3pm due to Free after 3, and month on month you don’t. 
To support businesses better, and to increase dwell time in the city, we want to introduce a range of more flexible offers to encourage trade throughout the day and ease the pressure on the evening peak hour. Doing your shopping after three doesn’t work for everyone – we want to bring in a range of offers that cater for all types of people wanting to visit Chester.
Let me share with you some of the options we are considering implementing as part of the developing Chester action plan.
  • Reduced tariffs in some car parks.
  • Discounts for motorists arriving within certain times.
  • Discounted evening parking. 
  • Weekend discounts. 
  • Offers during quiet seasonal periods.
A key option we want to develop with businesses is a ‘spend and save’ offer where participating retailers refund or part-pay for parking charges when customers spend with them. This is an idea we have already started to share with our stakeholders and we hope to work with businesses and the CH1ChesterBID to implement this going forward. 
Specific options we are considering would actually mean cheaper rates in some of Chester’s central car parks including:
  • Cheaper short stay rates in Trinity Street car park
  • Simplified tariff structures to promote cheaper short-stay parking in central car parks and cheaper medium stay in others 
  • A flat rate tariff for longer-stay visitors in car parks outside the inner ring road, such as Little Roodee and Watergate Street, 
  • Trialling free after 2pm mid-week on Park and Ride
All of the proposals are intended to support the best use of the car parks for businesses by reducing some charges and encouraging longer dwell times of shoppers in the central car parks.
We have aspirations to ensure that our current and future parking provision is and remains fit for purpose, contributes to residents’ quality of life, supports businesses and the visitor economy and enables the Council to fulfil its obligations to improve air quality. 
The draft Strategy’s recommendations are all geared towards this and will ensure: 
  • we have sufficient spaces and they are in the right places
  • car parks are safe and clean
  • we have sufficient parking for those with mobility problems
  • we have good signage 
  • we use new technology to make visits easier and flexible
  • we address the issues faced by residents who live in areas where commuters regularly park
  • we introduce the right offers in the right places to encourage visitors
  • we reduce congestion and air pollution concerns
  • the Council controls enough of the borough’s parking for the Strategy to be effective
I know that you contributed to the recent consultation and that you supported, and indeed commended, the majority of the proposals set out within it and recognised what we are trying to achieve. 
But we can’t do it without investment. You don’t have to be a mathematician to realise that we will need to generate income to contribute to improvements that will bring our facilities to the highest standard. 
Nobody likes paying for things that used to be free, we understand that, but research shows that with a range of reduced charges and attractive offers such as the ‘spend and save’ option shoppers actually value safety, flexibility and ease of use much more than cost.
If the proposals are approved by Cabinet next week I hope that you will continue to work with us as we create a clear action plan for Chester and shape it with our businesses and the city’s economy and success at its very heart. 
Councillor Karen Shore
Cabinet Member for Environment
Cheshire West and Chester Council

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