Stephen McPartland, Member of Parliament for Stevenage, took his 3 hours free Parking campaign to Parliament yesterday. Stephen led a debate on the need to introduce 3 hours free parking to kickstart Stevenage town centre regeneration. You can read his full speech here.
Stephen said, “I am delighted the Minister fully supports my campaign, as it is an important issue both for my constituents in Stevenage and nationally. It is clear that excessive parking charges have been a major factor in the destruction of many high streets and town centres. I made it clear that our local economy is taking off. We are breaking the grip of Stevenage Borough Council, which is trying to hold us back, and we are moving forward, but we have a huge problem right in the centre of our town. I love Stevenage, but its town centre is not fit for purpose. It needs regenerating and bringing forward into the 21st century, and it needs to reflect the growing aspirations of the people who live here, but do not shop here.
“In Stevenage, we have to pay almost as much in car parking charges as we do in council tax. That is totally unacceptable. I am campaigning for Stevenage Borough Council to match the three hours of free parking at Roaring Meg and stop killing our town centre by ripping off local people. I have spoken to developers, financiers, chief executives and chairmen of leading retailers, and they all tell me the exact same simple facts of regeneration. We have to increase customer footfall and the dwell time of shoppers before they will come, and the quickest way to do that is with an element of free parking. But Stevenage Borough Council cannot give up its addiction to the £3.5 million it receives in car parking charges, which blocks every regeneration attempt.
“The latest regeneration plan is painful to read. It is a billion-pound joke on local people. The ridiculous proposal involves moving the existing railway station, relied on by 35,000 commuters a day, and closing Lytton Way, which the council says is redundant, but is actually the busiest dual carriageway in Stevenage, going right through the heart of the town centre. One of the only two custody suites in the whole of Hertfordshire is located off the dual carriageway. The plan also involves demolishing the Gordon Craig theatre and building 1,600 flats on the leisure park to wipe out our community facilities, including the first Cineworld cinema in the UK.
“It is time for radical action and for a new town centre in Stevenage, and the first step has to be introducing three hours of free parking, to help to increase customer footfall and dwell time. I have previously asked the Government to step in and take action. I asked them to establish a new Stevenage development corporation, to regenerate our town centre once and for all. If Stevenage Borough Council is frightened of being side-lined, then it should not have a development corporation. Let us have a development partnership, a super-business improvement district or a whole new model we can invent, which can act as a template for small town centre regeneration schemes. I do not mind—I will work with anyone to deliver for my town of Stevenage.”
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Marcus Jones, said “my honourable Friend has been an active supporter and campaigner for three hours of free parking in Stevenage. I take this opportunity to say that I fully support his campaign…. Where councils do not think about parking charges, it has negative consequences. In my constituency, Labour-controlled Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council regrettably took the step of increasing car parking charges in April, and it has already found that that has reduced the car park income to the council by £200,000. That shows what a negative approach that is and the damaging effect that putting up car parking charges can have on a town centre.
“In conclusion, the Government are committed to helping our high streets to adapt to the changing needs of communities and making them fit for the 21st century, but we need to be clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every town is different, but parking has a key role to play in encouraging people to use our town centres. It was good to hear my honorable Friend the Member for Stevenage make that wide offer to his local area - to say, “Let’s work together to make things happen in Stevenage.” - that is absolutely right. Local areas must come together to work on behalf of local businesses, bring local people into our town centres and deliver a package that they can be proud of.”
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