Independent traders have put the idea at the top of their ‘wish-list’ for the new year as they seek to build on the good work already being done by the council to help them.
A new ‘AppyParking’ system will launch in the town next month which is designed to make parking easier, while greater focus has also been placed on promoting our many and varied ‘indie’ shops and businesses.
Now the traders hope that more incentives can be found to draw shoppers into the town centre, starting with cheaper, or even free parking on certain days of the week.The newly formed Business Improvement District (BID) team has shown support to the idea and says it wants to work with the local authorities to prevent parking in the town centre from being used as a ‘cash cow.’
Georgia Duffy, owner of the Imagined Things bookstore highlighted the plight of Harrogate’s independent stores this summer when a Tweet about ‘her worst day’ created huge publicity.
Now she is keen to make the most of shops like hers being in the spotlight.“I know the council wants to make money from parking charges but surely more money will be fed into the economy by encouraging more people to use the town centre and spend money here, rather than on parking,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things where something could be done. People talk about rents and rates but the council doesn’t really have much influence. “Parking is something that could be easily achieved here, and Sundays were free not that long ago.”
Pam Lewis of Cold Bath Road’s Tilly Peppers cafe agrees: “I think the main thing that needs to be done is looking at parking fees, especially on a Sunday. It’s greedy and discourages people from coming into the centre of town, and people are instead going outside the area where it’s free.”
Chairman of BID, John Fox, says he is keen to address the situation. “For independent retailers the main area of concern is car parking and its cost,” he said.
“Our own surveys found that customers’ experience of coming into town and moving around was putting them off. “The Harrogate BID in its Business Plan states the BID can deliver and support tactical parking and public transport incentives/promotions to attract people into the town centre. “The BID will support and work with partners to investigate the application of technological innovations such as ‘Smart Parking’ to ensure ease of access into Harrogate, and for on-street and off-street parking in the town centre. We want to investigate the use of technology to allow customers to take advantage of user based, discounted car parking.
“We want to work with both North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council to get away from using parking in Harrogate town centre as a ‘cash cow’, we need to encourage people into Harrogate to spend more time here."
Councillor Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, said the district council would be happy to speak with BID on initiatives it wished to bring forward, 'so long as they aligned with the BID's manifesto and had evidence to prove that it was likely to be successful.'
He said: " "Harrogate Borough Council is one of the largest contributors to the Harrogate BID, putting in tens of thousands of pounds. We are happy to talk to the BID about any initiatives they wish to bring forward, as long as they align to the BID manifesto and have evidence to prove that they are likely to be successful.
"Our preferred solutions to congestion and parking are always to favour sustainable transport and we are waiting for discussions with the BID as to how we can move this vision forward together.”
North Yorkshire County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said previously Sunday parking had resulted in drivers 'having great difficulty' finding spaces in the centre.
He said: “Sunday parking charges were introduced in November 2016 for traffic management reasons. Unrestricted parking from 6pm on Saturday evenings until 8am Monday morning was leading to town centre streets being fully parked up over that period with drivers travelling to the town centre having great difficulty in finding a space to park. This was acting as a deterrent to visitors who wished to come to our shops, coffee shops, tea rooms and restaurants.
“The situation now is much improved. Whilst the town centre is very busy on Sundays, parking controls mean that spaces turn over regularly and we see far fewer cars driving round looking for somewhere to park. Sunday on-street charging has also provided encouragement to drivers to use HBC’s off-street car parks. It's recognised that for traffic management purposes, and to improve the street scene, using car parks specially provided for the purpose is better than using town centre streets except for short periods.
"Parking charges in Harrogate compare very favourably with those in nearby competing retail centres like Leeds and York. There is a great deal of evidence that reasonable parking charges do not deter visitors. Difficulty in finding parking spaces is much more off-putting. Additionally, the town also has a very large number of disc parking spaces close to the town centre where drivers can park free of charge for up to three hours within a short walk from the town centre.
"NYCC uses all its parking surpluses to fund various transport improvements, including on the Harrogate Rail Line, on sustainable transport projects, on air quality schemes, and in contributing towards the Â£8m a year cost of bus passes issued under the National Concessionary Travel Scheme.
"The County Council is also aware from its work on the Harrogate Congestion Study that a significant number of residents are of the opinion that parking charges have a role to play in changing people’s travel behaviour by encouraging the use of public transport and sustainable travel means like cycling and walking.”