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Free parking – is it worth the money?

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It’s hard to tell whether this scheme is gibberish or not.The money to pay
for this free parking experiment is coming from the “Opportunity
Fund” – £10k set aside by CCC for the Herne Bay councillors to spend on
local projects.

I had fondly imagined that this would
cover stuff that wouldn’t easily be funded from any other part of the Council
structure – the Christmas grotto at the Bandstand, a grant for the Umbrella
Centre, that sort of thing.

It appears, however, that it can be
used for things that I would have thought came under the Highways budget (the
new barrier in Mortimer Street) or CCC’s traffic budget (this proposal). It
looks and feels to me like the Council simply recycling the same money – CCC
gives Herne Bay money which is then returned to CCC to cover the revenue that
CCC loses through Herne Bay’s free parking experiment.

Andrew Cook gave us a breakdown of where the money will be spent: £400 for
advertising, £250 for recalibrating the machines, leaving £800 for the parking.
I think his maths is a little out – £750 would be left to cover the cost of lost
parking revenue.

One of the councillors, I think it was Peter Lee, revealed that the horrid
little parking meters scattered across town are cleverer than I ever expected.
They are linked in to some evil central parking brain, and chatter away all day
long, boasting about how much money they’re taking.

Surely this takes all the guesswork out of estimating how much parking is
making the Council, and how much free parking would cost them. Nonetheless, Andrew
Cook says in the press article that it will give them “a clear idea of
what it costs to do free parking”. Peter Lee says the money being asked
for is “a fair estimate of the income lost”. CCC already know what the experiment is likely to cost – the parking meters
have told them.

What they haven’t explained is how they will know if the
experiment has succeeded, or what their criteria for success might be.

How is this going to be assessed? If someone arrives at 9:15am and leaves at
10:30am, how will anyone (or the parking meters) know they were ever there?
Will there be a Council officer standing there every April morning, counting
the cars in and counting them out again?

Peter Lee refers to the possibility of free parking being “self-funding” –
what on earth does that mean? Presumably, he thinks that the £800 of lost
parking revenue might pop up somewhere, somehow.

So what’s actually happening here – is our Council simply using some rather
unsubtle money-shuffling to give the appearance of trying to help our town?

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Free parking trial for
Herne Bay town centre approved by councillors

Shoppers will be offered
free parking on weekday mornings next month in a bid to tempt them into Herne
Bay. Councillors agreed to spend £1,400 on a trial of free parking between 9am
and 11am, Monday to Friday, in the Kings Road car park where the market is held
on Saturdays.

The money comes from
Herne Bay Area Member Panel’s opportunities fund – a pot of £10,000 a year for
community projects that benefit the town. It will pay for advertising, changes
to parking meters and for any lost revenue from car parking charges.

Dylan Hampshire, of
Cockett’s Mattresses, suggested changing the time and copying other town’s
‘free after 3pm’ schemes. Andrew Lawrence, who runs the Speciality Food Store
in Mortimer Street, said both mornings and afternoons were difficult for
traders:

“From 9-11am is a dead
zone, as is the last part of the day. After 2.30pm, Herne Bay is dead. We are
suffering then. We could probably open from 11am to 2.30pm and then close our
shops and go home because we have so few customers.”

He said local people
refused to pay anything for parking, and seafront charges also put
holidaymakers off.

But West Bay councillor
Peter Lee said parking was free for most of the year in Central Parade. Heron
councillor Andrew Cook added:

“This is an excellent
project that both residents and businesses have been pushing for. It will give
us an accurate idea of what it actually costs to do free parking.”

Critics argued that the
money was effectively going back into the council’s pockets, to replace the
income lost from parking charges during the trial. But Cllr Lee, who is
responsible for finance on the council, said it was important to be able to
tell how much revenue was lost. He added:

“We can repeat it in the
future if we can prove it can be self-funding. This is a fair estimate of the
income lost.”

Officials also vowed to
investigate another suggestion of extending the free parking in town centre
streets from one hour to two. The Kings Road car park scheme will start in
April.

thisiskent 12th Mar 2013

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