No to free car parking bid shows ‘lack of vision’

A car park behind Middleton Grange Shopping Centre
A car park behind Middleton Grange Shopping Centre

A Hartlepool councillor has accused his authority of showing a lack of vision after it ditched calls to introduce free car parking.

Coun David Riddle put forward a proposal that would have seen town centre parking charges abolished.

The council needs a reality check. Middleton Grange is struggling to compete with the supermarkets and the retail parks, all of which offer free parking

Councillor David Riddle

He has expressed his frustration after Hartlepool Borough Council decided this week not to look into the idea any further after saying it could cost the authority up to £1.5million a year in lost charges and fines.

Coun Riddle said: “When parking charges were first introducing by Labour in 1999, we were told that the money raised would be used to subsidise bus services to reduce congestion.”

But he said removing those bus subsidies have had a ‘serious impact on bus services’.

He added: “Parking charges are a tax, pure and simple.

“You can call it a parking tax or a shopping tax but either way, it is an additional tax which is being used as a back-door supplement to what is already one of the highest levels of council tax in the country.”

The council’s Neighbourhood Services Committee decided on Wednesday to carry out an in-depth review of what it charges to park in its car parks across the town.

But councillors decided not to include the option of free car parking after officers said the lost revenue could amount up to £1.5million a year.

Coun Riddle added: “The council needs a reality check. Middleton Grange is struggling to compete with the supermarkets and the retail parks, all of which offer free parking.

“In addition, Billingham, Peterlee and the Metro Centre all offer free parking, while Middlesbrough offers the first two hours of parking free.

“If money is the issue, then there are plenty of other ways this council can cut down on its waste: not demolishing perfectly good buildings, not planting pointless ‘community orchards’ and not opening loss-making cafes in cemeteries would be a good start.”

Putting forward his idea for free car parking at the end of last year, Coun Riddle said the council should explore ways to offset the money lost such as businesses sponsorship, advertising hoardings, allowing a petrol station to be built in a council car park and leasing space for car valeting or a car wash.

He added: “It looks like when you actually need a bit of ‘vision’, Hartlepool Labour Group are found sadly lacking.”

The council manages more than 2,000 parking spaces in the town centre area. Charges and fines last year generated £1,335,000 for the council.

Council officers are to produce a report with a range of parking charges options by November.

Readers say decision will see shoppers travel out of town

Many Mail readers feel the decision not to explore free car parking in Hartlepool town centre will drive shoppers to other towns.

A number of people left their views on the Mail’s website and Facebook page on our story that councillors are to review parking charges but not to make free.

Kathleen Verrall said: “They will only shoot themselves in the foot because Middlesbrough is 2hrs free parking. Billingham is free parking, public will go elsewhere.!!!

Paul Nedley said: “In this age of austerity the local council are using these methods to top up their coffers. Just like austerity doesn’t work, these plans plainly fail.

“Local shop and business owners lose out, shops close, jobs are lost, town centres become ghost towns.

“I do wish we had a few people with some foresight and intelligence to project a better future for Hartlepool.”

Wayne Julian said: “Park down the marina and walk up to town, why complain?? Hartlepool council will never change.”

Rachel Kathryn said: “I’d much rather travel 40 minutes up the road to the MetroCentre, where parking is free and you have every shop you could ever need.

“All that will happen with scrapping this proposal is that people will travel to other towns to do their shopping.”

Malcolm Kidd said: “Businesses will lose out.”

Paul Saunders said: “Council more concerned about profit. But when shop units go empty how much rates are they losing so people go out of town shopping. The shops have a chance of surviving with free parking.”