Harrogate Sunday parking charges recommended despite immense opposition

Ticket machine Harrogate

Ticket machine Harrogate

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Plans to introduce Sunday parking charges in Harrogate town centre have been recommended for approval by the county council despite overwhelming objections.

The report, which will be considered by the Executive on August 16, recommends the introduction of parking charges between 10am and 6pm on Sundays.

If approved, the charges would be in force from October 1 this year despite just six per cent of those consulted in favour of them.

Consultation on the proposals lasted for 10 weeks in 2015 with those who responded asked if they agreed or disagreed with both Sunday and evening charges.

Of the 761 responses just 48 respondents agreed with the introduction of Sunday charges with an overwhelming 713 respondents opposing the plans.

Only 10 of these respondents were businesses who agreed with the Sunday charges proposals while the remaining 101 said that they were against their introduction.

More than 4,000 signatures were also collected on two separate petitions against the proposals with a further 1,283 signatures backing a petition for free Sunday disc parking.

Despite the sweeping outcry of Harrogate residents and business, Coun Don Mackenze, executive member for Highways, insisted the charges would improve the town's visitor economy.

He said: "It is over a year since we published the original proposals and during this time we have made every effort to engage people and listen to what they have to say.

"I have also attended two meetings of the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and received comments at first hand and answered many questions posed by chamber members.

"I realise some people believe the Sunday proposal will have a detrimental impact on Harrogate but I am not aware of any conclusive evidence that reasonable parking charges have a negative impact on town centre economies.

"In fact, this proposal will make it easier for shoppers and visitors to park close to shops, restaurants and other attractions."

Original plans for extending on-street parking charges were first raised in May 2015, proposing Sunday charges from 8am to 6pm as well as a £2 flat rate on weekday evenings.

However, after councillors rejected both proposals at a Harrogate District County Area Committee meeting in November, the plans were postponed pending a parking review.

In June, the county council presented their evidence from parking surveys undertaken on six town centre streets on four Sundays in April 2016.

The surveys found that on-street occupancy was "very high", some motorists were staying longer than the Monday to Saturday maximum stay periods and off-street car parks had capacity to accommodate further users throughout the day.

In the report due to be presented to the Executive in August, its author said the evidence showed that the current arrangement enabled motorists to take up "premium town spaces" for long periods.

The report states: "The absence of any restriction means that there is no incentive for motorists who want to stay longer to park off-street and no way of facilitating a turnover of on-street spaces.

"Consequently there is no way to ensure that these premium town centre spaces are available to shoppers and visitors to the town looking for a short stay space.

"An appropriate balance between on and off street charging encourages people to park off street and so facilitates the management of traffic flows.

"Incentivising those wanting to park for longer stays to use off-street car parks reduces the number of vehicles using the congested network to find a space as close as possible to their intended destination."

Coun Mackenzie said the evidence provided a "sound justification" for the Sunday proposal, but his view was one shared by a minority of consultation respondents.

Businesses including Caffe Marconi, Damn Yankee, Exit Interiors, Crown Jewellers, Bean and Bud, West Park Hotel and the Federation of Small Businesses were just some of the organisations which opposed the plans during consultation.

In their responses, objectors raised concerns with the potential impact on church attendees, the potential detrimental impact on the economy and the potential impact on town centre residents.

Respondents also claimed the plans were merely a revenue raising exercise; a point which Coun David Simister also raised during consultations.

He said: “Both the county council and the district council won’t be satisfied until they have destroyed the economy of Harrogate town centre.

“Whilst the county council is penalising people for bringing their cars into town on a Sunday, their borough colleagues are planning to reduce parking spaces and narrow some of the main town centre arterial routes.

“Yet again I stress this has never been about freeing up town centre parking spaces, but about raising revenue."

Coun Simister also warned that it would not be long before plans for evening parking charges were introduced.

The report has recommended that a proposal relating to evening charges should not be implement "at this stage" due to the complexity of the situation.

However, it has been proposed that further work will be done on this issue to finalise a solution "that achieves the appropriate balance between on and off-street parking."

Harrogate resident Mike Pywell launched a petition to introduce free disc parking on Sundays in Harrogate town centre, arguing this would also improve traffic flow.

But the county council dismissed this idea, arguing it would not "redress the balance" of charges as it would still be cheaper to park on street than off-street.

The report stated: "Disc parking would therefore not encourage those wanting to park for longer stays to use off-street car parks which reduces the number of vehicles using the congested network to find a space as close as possible to their intended destination.

"It would also mean lower turnover of the on-street spaces when compared to parking charges.

"Officers also believe that the implementation of disc parking on Sunday would be extremely confusing for visitors and would require duplicate signing given that pay and display charges apply Monday to Saturday."

Members of the executive will now be recommended to approve the Sunday 10am-6pm charges at a meeting on August 16.