Shop closures fear as parking charges to be introduced in commuter town near Bristol

St Mary Shopping Centre manager Alan Cole told cabinet members that the end of free parking would see customers spend their money elsewhereSt Mary Shopping Centre manager Alan Cole told cabinet members that the end of free parking would see customers spend their money elsewhere
St Mary Shopping Centre manager Alan Cole told cabinet members that the end of free parking would see customers spend their money elsewhere | google
A row has broken out as civic leaders propose new fees to plug a budget gap

The introduction of car parking charges in South Gloucestershire will drive Thornbury shopkeepers and traders out of business, a council meeting heard.

Civic leaders have proposed the new fees to plug a budget gap amid a huge political blame game.

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St Mary Shopping Centre manager Alan Cole told cabinet members that the end of free parking would see customers spend their money elsewhere and result in many retailers having to “close their doors permanently”.

It comes as opposition Conservatives have launched a petition against the plans.

South Gloucestershire Council’s Lib Dem/Labour coalition insists the previous Tory administration introduced the charges by stealth by including £1.5million to £2million of new parking charges as part of £7million of “income generating targets” when the budget was passed last February.

The Conservatives accuse the coalition of “spreading deliberate mistruths” and say pay-and-display at council car parks and on-street bays is “unfair and unnecessary”.

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Mr Cole told the cabinet meeting: “The introduction of parking charges will disadvantage Thornbury from a competitive nature with other nearby regional schemes, for instance Yate shopping centre, Willow Brook Shopping Centre and the Mall at Cribbs Causeway who all own and control their own parking assets.

“There is a partnership between Thornbury and the local authority that relies deeply on the availability of free parking.

“It goes hand in glove with making sure that the town functions as a retail space and that people will continue to visit the town and shop there.

“I’m asking that the cabinet rejects any proposal for the introduction of these charges.”

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He said retailers had endured a succession of disruption over the last four years, including the pandemic, the controversial refurbishment of the town’s High Street and the closure of the main car park in the run-up to Christmas.

Mr Cole said: “That was hugely damaging to incomes and business sustainability.”

He said a survey of 66 traders in the town centre showed many feared that customers would be put off going there.

“If parking charges are introduced, reduced shopping numbers will for many mean that they have to close their doors permanently,” Mr Cole said.

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“So that’s a serious issue given the investment the local authority has made in the town with the High Street and with improvements to car parking.

“It’s contrary to what you’re trying to achieve.

“The introduction of these charges will be an economic self-defeat.

“That is the message I’m hearing, because any gains will be negated by the loss in business rates revenue as a result of closures.

“I know that sounds drastic but it is realistic.”

Councillors Sam Bromiley and Liz Brenna at Laburnum Road car park in ThornburyCouncillors Sam Bromiley and Liz Brenna at Laburnum Road car park in Thornbury
Councillors Sam Bromiley and Liz Brenna at Laburnum Road car park in Thornbury | LDR

He said paid parking would also penalise people who ran and worked in the businesses.

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“Many of them are already experiencing some form of in-work poverty due to the cost-of-living crisis,” Mr Cole said.

“If you add another financial burden to their working day and to their daily commute, you are only going to deepen that impact on them.

“These people are vital to the town and to the way the town runs.”

Cllr Young replied that council leaders had been in constructive talks with Mr Cole and the chamber of commerce and that she hoped those continued.

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The Conservatives, meanwhile, have launched a petition against the proposals.

Group leader Cllr Sam Bromiley said: “I call on the coalition to scrap the proposals at the earliest opportunity.

“The administration should be doing all it possibly can to support residents instead of saddling them with additional costs, costs that will inevitably be felt by local businesses right across the district.”

The petition is here: https://www.bsgconservatives.com/car-parking-charge-petition

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Council co-leader Labour Cllr Ian Boulton said previously that the former Tory administration commissioned a report setting out how the £7million of new income would be raised and that this involved “exploring the introduction of parking charges”.

Conservatives admitted officers did look into it but that there were no commitments to make drivers pay to park.

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