Would the introduction of free parking provide our retailers with a welcome Christmas bonus?
Harrogate’s leading retail support groups have called for the latest ‘parking fees’ amnesty to be extended through to Christmas in a bid to give town traders a welcome festive boost.
Harrogate Borough Council announced last week how it was to waive fees for all 28 of its off-street car parks for the duration of the second lockdown - however, some business leaders say the move does not go far enough and want a longer pause in the charges.
They have also called on North Yorkshire County Council to follow suit and stop charging for on-street parking, something which has not yet been forthcoming.
The free parking announcement came at the end of a week when the Harrogate Advertiser launched its #supportourindies campaign, designed to shine the spotlight on our vast array of independent stores and traders.
While the campaign has drawn support from all sides of the business spectrum for highlighting the plight of our indies, there is also a feeling that more needs to be done in order to support them - starting with the extension of free parking in the town centre.
Sara Ferguson, acting chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID), which was set up in early 2019 to improve and promote the town centre, said the organisation was fully behind the Harrogate Advertiser’s #supportourindies campaign.
She said: “It’s vital we support our town centre businesses, and we are fully behind the Harrogate Advertiser’s campaign. Being the owner of two ‘independents’ myself, I appreciate the value independent businesses bring to the town.
“But we would also like to see free off-street parking being offered on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout December, as a way of bringing shoppers into Harrogate town centre during these quieter days.”
Presure group Independent Harrogate has long campaigned for more free parking and said the town centre desperately needed a “super-charged December”.
An IH spokesperson said: “We’re glad that Harrogate Borough Council has put free parking in place during the lockdown. But, given all the business that has been lost over the two lockdowns, we’re going to need a super-charged December, with every possible incentive to encourage shoppers, and I think a measure of free parking has to be a key element of that.”
Harrogate Borough Council said the town centre had plenty of free disc parking and waiving its fees would cost it around £250,000 a month.
A spokesman said its decision to pause fees during both the first and second lockdown was for the benefit of key workers and others travelling to work during the pandemic.
“This will allow NHS staff, key workers, permitted businesses as well as others to provide essential services, to those that need it the most,” the spokesperson said. “Parking income pays for town centre litter collection, the fantastic Stray which brings in customers all-year-round, environmental health which makes sure people are safe eating in town, taxi licensing which means people can get in and out of town safely and supports the conference centre ensuring business tourists come and spend in our local shops.”
The council also pointed toward Harrogate BID as having “significant resources” taken from business rate payers and that it would be open to discussions over using this cash to subsidise parking.
The spokesman added: “We are the biggest contributor to the BID putting in more than twice the next biggest contributors added together. If it wants to spend those contributions subsidising parking, we are happy to discuss it.”
As well as backing the Advertiser’s campaign, BID is introducing its own initiative to encourage people to support homegrown businesses via digital means with the message Shop Harrogate Online.
To that end, it is launching a social media campaign and, in turn, is asking local firms to use the hashtag #ShopHarrogateOnline on all social media posts advertising their products and services.
The Advertiser campaign has highlighted our indie businesses which are still trading during the new lockdown either through click-and-collect, delivery services or via takeaways in person.
A directory of those businesses who have contacted us to say they are still trading is available on our website HERE.