Car Parks and Council Cash

We received the Swindon News today – our council’s approximately bi-monthly news letter – download your copy here!

In it (I’m not allowed to reproduce here – sorry) the leader of our council writes a difficult column about the financial problems that council faces, the key message being that savings are going to have to be made, no matter how unpopular they are.

This is a bold and honest statement to make.  The kind of thing that I like in our politicians.  I appreciate the foresight and the warning.  And the council are doing some good stuff – I have first hand experience of some of the great things that they are doing.  They really want to make a difference.

But I’m a little confused about how this fits with the story on page 5 about lower parking charges.

Yes…you can now park in Swindon Town Centre for 4 whole hours for the meagre sum of just £2.  This would previously have cost you up to £4.80!

Now, I get that we need to get people into the town centre to support our local businesses, and many of the traders quoted are small local firms that would be missed if they went under.  I totally understand this.

But who’s absorbing the cut in costs?  Yup…this is being paid for from the cash-strapped council’s funding reserves!  To the tune of up to £155,000.

I’m confused about this because Swindon Council are working to reduce car usage.  That’s why they’ve developed an excellent cycle map, have a cycle champion, are running a cycle challenge? That’s why they have sustainable travel plans to ‘Keep People Moving’, and a Transport Strategy that will ‘Work to raise awareness of opportunities for alternatives to driving alone’.  Heck…they even want to be ‘the UK’s number one sustainable community’ by 2030!

So naturally, when considering how to boost the number of people heading into town they…err…encourage people into their cars?!  Increase congestion and pollution?  Make getting to town slow and stressful?  Encourage carbon emissions?  Forget the health benefits of cycling and walking and the fact that they recently closed a Park and Ride (one that the Swindon News-quoted Christine from Cirencester could have used for example)?

We should be incentivising people to get out of their cars and onto public transport, their feet, or their bicycles.  We should be reducing bus fares, and providing incentives to do anything but use a car.  Giving discounts and treats to people who haven’t used a parking space, not the other way around.

What about, rather than free parking if you spend over £50 like they do in the outlet village, a free bus ticket?  What about a prize draw that enter with your bus ticket?  What about a free tea/coffee or cake for a cyclist?  Spend £2.80 a time on getting someone to do something good?

The article about parking doesn’t even seem to suggest that this is a proven way of increasing business.  Phrases like “my personal opinion”, “I think” and “hopefully” are not the stuff of a well-considered move.

I know that £155,000 isn’t a huge chunk of a council’s budget, and I DO think we should be encouraging people to use our delightful local traders like Iles Jewellers and Great Western Cameras, but spending it on parking seems to be a big step backwards, don’t you think?

P.S. As a little side note, I find it quite amusing that the Council’s Cycling page lists “Parking” and “Road Closures” as “Popular Pages”.