LOCAL Government Secretary Eric Pickles fired a fresh salvo in his war with town halls over parking charges as he unveiled a new package of measures designed to help boost high streets yesterday.
The Government promised to prevent any further rises in the parking penalty charges imposed by councils until the next election in 2015.
A wider review of parking will consider how double yellow lines are used by councils, legislation to force authorities to give grace periods to people who park are late returning to their cars and a ban on the use of CCTV cameras to enforce parking rules.
Mr Pickles has previously criticised councils for using drivers as “cash cows”, criticised them for using “spy cars” to catch drivers who flout the rules and claimed local authority parking charges are contributing to the decline of the high street.
The new measures on parking were unveiled yesterday as part of a wider package designed to support town centres in the face of competition from online retailing.
Mr Pickles said: “The way we use our high streets is changing and the measures unveiled today give councils more power to reflect that in the way their high streets look and operate.
“New tax breaks for shops and sensible changes to over-zealous parking rules will help make high streets more attractive to shoppers.
“And by providing excellent local services and offering communities a vibrant place to spend their leisure time and money, local authorities can secure the future of their high streets for many years to come.”
Alongside restrictions on parking, the Government said it would work with business to invest £4.7m in research that will look at how retailers bricks and mortar retailers can survive alongside online stores.
There will also be a review of the planning rules governing shops to make it easier for empty units to be brought back into use.
In particular, Ministers will look at cutting red tape on applications to change shops to other uses such as cinemas, gyms and restaurants.
They will also look into whether retailers should be allowed to install mezzanine floors in shops where this would support the town centre.
Help for town centres was a key element of Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on Thursday when he conceded that small retailers, cafés and pubs were among the businesses that had suffered most in the recession.
Businesses in premises with a rateable value of up to £50,000 will be given a £1,000 discount in the next two years.
New occupants of retail premises that have been empty for a year or more will get a 50 per cent business rate relief for 18 months.
Business will also be able to pay their business rates over 12 months.
The Government said the steps on parking announced yesterday would “make it cheaper and easier to park, encourage people to shop locally and help with the cost of living”.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Unfair parking fines blight the use of our high streets and force shoppers out of towns. We want to rein back aggressive rules by banning the use of CCTV for parking enforcement, reviewing the use of yellow lines, and giving shoppers a ‘grace period’ to get back to their car after their ticket has run out before they get fined.
“We will also update guidance to emphasise a less heavy-handed approach to parking enforcement and to reinforce that charges and fines cannot be used as a means to raise cash.”
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