Harpenden traders renew fight for parking changes

Harpenden renews fight to extend on-street car parking

HARPENDEN’s on-street car parking woes are in the firing line yet again after fed-up retailers demanded action on behalf of visitors to the town.

Town mayor Cllr Michael Weaver has confirmed that he has resurrected his bid to have free parking on the High Street extended from one to two hours.

This week he sent a plea to St Albans district council to boost free parking for a trial period.

Cllr Weaver said: “We want to make the shopping experience in Harpenden a pleasant one. If people are not feeling rushed, they will be more likely to stay in the town and spend money.”

Barely a year ago, a similar attempt to extend free on-street car parking to two hours in the High Street was narrowly defeated at council when a split vote was decided by a working party’s chairman, who voted against the request.

In 2010, Cllr Weaver had argued for the scheme on behalf of retailers, asking the then council administration for a “proper debate” on Harpenden’s car parking.

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Key issues raised by the business community at the time included the need to increase the hours of free parking and for the council to address the belief that fees in council-owned car parks, run by NCP, were higher when compared to similar sized towns.

Cllr Weaver said his revived bid was backed by a survey of retailers, who asked customers how much free parking on the High Street would suffice.

While some visitors preferred quick, short visits to the bank and other services, the majority wanted additional time to park close to and visit more shops.

He added: “We are resurrecting the request for the trial period for the whole of the High Street and we will talk about it for Southdown as well.”

Keith Lunn, owner of Breathing Space, a day spa and studio, said visitors parking in NCP-managed car parks in Harpenden were shelling out nearly three times more an hour than in nearby Berkhamsted as fees are in line with those charged in St Albans. He said: “I don’t think it’s fair to have the same level of rates as St Albans. St Albans is a city; it’s a much wider shopping experience.

“It’s got all the tourism with the Abbey, yet a small town like Harpenden has the same rates for parking, it’s not right.”

Spa customers were unhappy that because of the way fees were set at local car parks that they were forced to pay for two hours of parking when doing a one-hour-long yoga session, as they had to allow for time to change clothes and return to their vehicle, rather than risk receiving a parking fine.

Mr Lunn said: “It’s a substantial cost. But the traffic wardens are ruthless; they are on you straight away.

“They are not adding anything to the environment or the community, it’s a money-making machine.”

He said that the council had to understand that the parking situation was putting customers off and turning shopping into an unpleasant experience for some visitors, particularly those having to rush back to cars parked in the High Street.

Mr Lunn, who is also chairman of Harpenden Retail Partnership, suggested a pay-as-you-go car park where visitors paid for the actual time spent in town upon leaving.

He said that since the partnership was formed many retailers had contacted him to share their concerns, including the fact that there were now 16 shops standing empty along and near the High Street.

The Pantry, on Harding Parade, has been closed to diners for the past fortnight. Tables have not been cleared, mail is piling up beneath the letterbox and a letter marked “urgent” has been taped to the door. The restaurant could not be contacted for comment.

Mr Lunn added: “Retailers want to get together to see what we can do to ensure Harpenden remains a vibrant town. We have a meeting on July 11. I would encourage as many retailers as we can get to talk about their ideas on improving the situation.”

The Herts Advertiser, which has pledged its support for Harpenden’s business community, will publish further details of the meeting closer to the time.

District council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, who promised greater representation for Harpenden when his party took control of the council in May, said the authority would revisit the issue of car parking in both Harpenden and St Albans.

He said: “We will look seriously at having free on-street parking for one hour in St Albans and possibly two hours in Harpenden. But we would need to listen to retailers’ considered ideas.”