Harpenden estate agents hit back at parking claims

SEVERAL Harpenden estate agents have hit back at allegations that they are taking advantage of free parking in the town.

Residents Jim McArdle and Tom Coulter have criticised the district council for a decade-long “bureaucratic inertia” over street parking.

They alleged that some estate agents had “abused” parking restrictions which they felt the council should enforce to free up more parking spaces for visitors.

Town Cllr Michael Weaver also commented that it was, “short-sighted that shop owners, estate agents and the like park all day outside their premises. That keeps potential High Street shoppers away.”

But Ken Whittaker, director of John Curtis Ltd in Harpenden, said that he and several of the town’s agents felt discriminated against for being singled out by Cllr Weaver.

He went on: “We as an industry don’t have the option of parking in a long-stay car park all day – we need access to our cars for outside appointments. This office alone can have up to 45 accompanied visits at properties in one day.

“As well as paying huge rents to our landlords, we all pay significant business rates to St Albans district council. In fact our own rates at John Curtis have just risen in the last year by 20 per cent with no explanation, to over �13,000.

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“Cllr Weaver should know the problems of parking, having been a local shopkeeper for a lot of his working life.”

He said local estate agents contributed a great deal to the community including to Grove House, Harpenden schools and cancer research.

Mr Whittaker added: “We don’t all manage to dodge the wardens as suggested [by Mr McArdle and Mr Coulter]. If we are with our clients we can’t simply stop the meeting and tell our client that we have to leave to move the car. Quite to the contrary, we regularly receive parking fines – all again benefiting both NCP and the local authority.”

Principal of Premier Move in Harpenden, Lance Trendall, said that parking was a real issue and one that did need addressing.

He added: “When the longer trains run through Harpenden more people may decide to commute by train and park their cars here. Now is the time to plan for this rise in demand for car parking and the constant growth in car ownership by lobbying the council and [Network Rail] to build multi-storey car parks at Bowers Way and the station car parks.”

Mr Trendall warned: “If nothing is done we’ll see the tide of car parking rise further into our attractive central residential areas.

“At Premier Move we have our own car park behind our office which means we can respond fast when we have viewing or valuation requests and other employees pay for parking in the public car parks.”

Sales manager at Frost’s Estate Agents, Harpenden, Matthew Brand, described how upon returning from an appointment on Monday he found, the NCP car park in which staff paid “extortionate amounts of money to park” completely full resulting in him having to park in one of the one-hour bays.

Harpenden district Cllr John Chambers said the parking needs of local business people should be better accommodated. He described Harpenden estate agents as “a very important part of the community. I sympathise with them.”

Cllr Weaver agreed that estate agents contributed a “great deal to the well-being of our community” and should not be singled out for blame for local parking difficulties.

He added: “As a past shopkeeper (C & A) and more recently as a town councillor I have always done everything I can to promote a vibrant town centre, maximise customer footfall and thereby boost shop trade. We do not want to end up with a ‘dead’ High Street. How best to achieve this? One way is to ensure the maximum availability of car parking.”