A potential move to scrap 30 minutes’ free parking has split views among independent traders on a bustling Bedminster shopping street.
It’s currently free to park for half an hour on North Street before heading into the myriad of independent shops, but this could be set to change after Bristol City Council revealed a £19.5million gap needed filling in its proposed 2022/23 budget.
Dropping 30 minutes’ free parking in Resident Parking Zones (RPZs) like Southville, which the length of North Street falls under, is just one of the many money-saving avenues the authority is mulling over as it tightens its purse strings.
When BristolWorld visited traders on North Street this morning (January 21), most were unaware that the current scheme was up for review - and the plan divided opinion.
‘All I can say is that it would be detrimental’
North Street is arguably the jewel in Bedminster’s crown. It spans all the way to Ashton Gate and is home to dozens of eclectic shops and eateries adorned with Bristol’s world-famous street art.
Want dairy-free cannoli, a Specials record or an exotic addition to your fishtank? You’ll find it all here.
In what has been a horrible time for retail, shopkeepers tell us they’re ‘thriving’ on North Street, but some worry a change in parking rules will be another blow they just don’t need after the economic trials of the pandemic.
Joe, who did not wish to give his surname, lives locally and works at a bakery on North Street.
He said: “All I can say is that scrapping the scheme would be very, very detrimental for North Street.
“I don’t just work here, I do my weekly shop here - and I use the 30 minutes’ free parking to do that.
“If we had to pay to park and do that it would be a lot more difficult to justify coming down here and I’m sure it would be the same for many others.”
Phillipa Jones, manager of Namaste, a jewellery shop on the top end of North Street, said: “I use the 30 minutes’ free parking myself, so I’d be sad to see it go.
“It will definitely affect this side of North Street more, as at the other end people can get three hours’ parking in Aldi.
“There’s Asda of course, but it’s not on the doorstep. People are lazy, let’s face it, or they’re pushed for time.
“They like to park right up before dashing into the shops.”
‘We need to encourage walking and cycling’
Benny Dart, owner of Friendly Records, said that while he sympathised with fellow business owners who use the free 30 minutes to unload and for deliveries, he was generally in favour of scrapping free parking.
He told BristolWorld: “I don’t know how many of my customers use the 30 minutes’ free parking to be honest, as I don’t usually ask them how they got here.
“But one thing I will say is that I’m anti-car and I think we should be doing everything we can to encourage walking and cycling.
“People are very strong-minded about their cars and having their cars taken away from them in some way.
“Yet ask anyone if they enjoy driving around Bristol and I’m sure they’ll all probably tell you the same thing.
“It’s rammed here. The bottleneck is just a few metres down the road.”
‘Pedestrianisation’ idea also a point of contention
Interestingly, some shop owners hoped the Council would go a step further and pedestrianise North Street, as long as ample infrastructure was in place to deal with Bedminster’s heaving traffic problem.
Stacey Fordham, co-founder of Zero Green, said: “The parking thing is a double-sword.
“It could encourage people to visit shops they haven’t before as they’re not restricted to the 30 minutes, or it could put them off entirely.
“Regardless, there’s definitely an argument for North Street being traffic free at some point.
“That would be lovely, even if it was just on a regular Saturday or Sunday when the bus routes aren’t as busy.
“It creates a wonderful sense of community and it’s safer for people, especially children, to wander around and experience the shops.”
Not everyone was happy with the pedestrianisation idea, though - Nick Cox, owner and director of The Aquatic Shop, said it would be a ‘grave mistake’.
“The worst thing they ever did was pedestrianise West Street round the corner,” he added.
“Apparently, takings completely dropped off. If they scrapped the 30 minutes, it would be just as bad for us.
“I have customers who travel from as far as Manchester. When you’ve driven that far, the last thing you want to do is pay for parking.”
A decision on the scheme is yet to be made, but Amy Hamilton, owner of Rhubarb Jumble, isn’t too worried.
She said: “It’s a strange one because most of our customers are local and they walk or bike here.
“There’s always the concern you’re putting customers from further afield off if there’s blanket knowledge that there’s nowhere to park, but there is a huge drive at the moment to encourage people away from their cars and this is just part of that.
“Things change and people adapt. When the Resident Parking Zone came in, there was uproar initially, and then people got used to it.
“I do agree that pedestrianising North Street would give it a European feel, but we’ll have to see.”
What Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said
Marvin Rees said the council wasn’t targeting motorists - instead balancing the budget which he said was authority’s legal obligation.
He explained that the cost of services provided by the council had increased while Government funding had not kept up with inflation.
Mr Rees said: “We do have to look at our revenue streams and parking charges is a revenue stream - there are some areas where we have not historically increased parking charges in line with inflation and areas where our parking charges are not in line with other cities.
“I would add that there are many people who would advocate for that because they want a deterrence to car usership as well.
“We want to support a smooth transition away from dependence on private cars.
“Our point here is where do we go to make revenue, and remember if we don’t have revenue we have less to spend on services that people rely on.”
He added: “We recognise the potential impact but nothing is in isolation, we have money coming in to promote high street and town shopping around the city and our team has done incredible work with the Covid grants to support businesses.”
The proposed budget goes to full council for a decision on February 15.