There is no doubt – and I think most people would agree – that our high streets are facing unprecedented challenges and many retailers are facing tough times.
The continuing effects of the recession and global banking crisis, increased use of the internet, high rents and rates, and a poor offer from some retailers themselves, are all contributing to the decline.
While there is much that can be done to support them through these tough times, there is no hard evidence to suggest that the decline of the high street is anything to do with the cost of parking.
Most of the claims are anecdotal and based on assumptions rather than hard and fast facts.
A recent report entitled ‘Re-think! Parking on the high street’ supported this and found no conclusive evidence that parking tariffs are influencing decline not just locally, but in locations across the UK.
The charges in Morecambe compare very favourably with those in other towns in the north west.
The cheapest (council run) parking in Preston and in Kendal town centre is £1.20. Contrast this with the long stay Festival Market/Old Station car parks in Morecambe, which is £1.
This has been frozen since April 2009, but there is no indication that it has led to any increase or decrease in the number of people visiting retailers.
While there is to be a small 10p increase in the one hour charge in our other car parks, the council has also frozen other car park tariffs in short and long stay car parks for stays of two hours or more.
This encourages people to stay for longer and use more of the town’s amenities Morecambe also benefits from free parking along much of the promenade, something which you will not find in many of the north west’s towns and cities.
Moving forward, the Morecambe Area Action Plan includes actions relating to car parking and recognises that as a priority the city and county councils should work together in preparing a joint plan for vehicle parking in central Morecambe.
This would cover the whole range of aspects including the location, management and pricing of parking.
There are a lot of other things to consider and one aspect, such as pricing, cannot be considered in isolation if we are to develop a plan which benefits the widest range of people possible.
We also have to tackle the long term causes of decline and one of these is the appearance of the shop frontages.
To this end we are taking concerted enforcement action under untidy site legislation to force shop owners to improve the appearance of their premises to live up to the expectation of visitors.
We are also assisting targeted shop owners to undertake improvements with assistance through a second Townscape Heritage Initiative.
All of these will deliver for the people of Morecambe in the long run and encourage more people into the town.