Members gave consideration to a report which presented the draft Parking Strategy and Action Plan for approval.
One of the functions of the parking service, operated by the council was to have a Strategy, approved by Members setting out the direction of travel for the service and which guided key decisions.
In presenting the report Officers outlined the process by which the Strategy had been developed using specialist consultants. The Consultants had been provided with a detailed brief and Members noted their report, in response to that brief, had been included as an appendix to the report. The Consultants report included a number of recommendations and observations which, following internal review, had been developed into an Action Plan, which was also attached as an appendix to the report. Members noted that not all recommendations had been included in the Action Plan.
The key findings were detailed in Section 2.1 of the report and where highlighted to the Committee.
The report recommended that any review of the free parking offer should be considered as part of the wider fees and charges review, rather than at this point. It was also being recommended that a joint approach with neighbouring authorities to the roll out EV charge points be further explored and finally that the Strategy be refreshed after a three-year period, as opposed to five, given the significant regeneration planned in the District within that period.
Lengthy and detailed debate ensued and Members sought assurance that the Strategy would be fully reviewed, in coming years, in light of planned regeneration, the investment from Levelling-Up and Shared Prosperity Funding and other heritage schemes in motion. There was real aspiration to transform the use of the Market Place etc and Members considered parking would be an important piece of the jigsaw that needed to align with other key Strategies, Plans and Developments.
Understanding the reasoning for not making changes to tariffs as part of the report Members were keen to see this go ahead, indicating they considered there to be a real need. Many a study had been undertaken regarding the impact of free parking versus parking charges but Members felt it was important peoples’ habits and needs were taken into consideration; people welcomed the opportunity to nip in and out in close proximity to shops and facilities. Improved signage was welcomed, and an offer Members currently considered lacking. Motor Home and Coach Parking did not appear within the Action Plan and it was suggested that this should possibly be reconsidered, at some point in the future. Having formal coach parking, it was considered, would strengthen and encourage the Visitor Economy aspirations and again better align the offer with the future aspirations for the District.
In response to questions, Officers confirmed the Council did employee a Parking Officer, on a fixed term contract basis.
Many Members spoke in support of including Motorhome and Coach Parking provision as part of the District offer, being of the strong belief this was a fundamental part of any Visitor Economy, particularly given the rural nature of the District.
Regarding payment methods, there was strong consensus that cash should remain an option for service users. Ensuring equality was paramount and Members were mindful that some service users did not have smart phones or bank account allowing debit transactions.
Members sought indication as to whether neighbouring authorities or partners had shown any desire to work jointly in respect of EV Charge points, or whether this was in the aspirational stages. Members also questioned whether any consideration had been given to “green-ing” the car parks, noting this may be a more longer-term action but that the Council had committed to improve its green credentials. Consideration could be given to the types of surface covering used, its impact on flooding, vegetation added, accepting impacts on maintenance would need to be considered.
In responding, Officers advised that as yet joint working was aspirational with appetite untested. There was a surface of rescheduling and the suggestions made could be further investigated, adding vegetation may be feasible with some re-configuration. There was no intention to remove cash as a payment method at this stage, payment by phone had increased since Covid and to date card payments were not accepted due to the capital investment required versus the income generated. It was suggested by the Committee that charges should be set in conjunction with Marshalls Yard.
Some Members expressed disappointment in the Consultants report suggesting it was an “off the shelf” proposal which failed to reflect the reals issues Gainsborough and the District were experiencing. Car park usage had dropped significantly, and even further since the data collection was undertaken. People visiting the town centre after lunch was non-existent, this was impacting both the market and local businesses viability and the report had suggested the town centre may benefit from reduced traffic- which was against the desires Members had previously expressed. The evidence base was questioned and considered non-comparable with the notion of quick convenient parking close to amenities previously mentioned fully supported and considered to be what the Authority should be seeking to achieve.
Security of the car parks was raised given recent incidents of traveller encampments on Council land, this had not only reduced car park income but had had a significant impact on the town centre and businesses therein. Members sought indication as to whether they were any plans to prevent such an occurrence again, noting the process Officers had to undertake to move people on and the fact that this process could be repeated over and over in theory, with travellers simply re-locating to a new site, to re-trigger the process again.
Officers gave re-assurance that no camp could remain indefinitely, summarising the legal process and steps undertaken to ensure swift vacation. Physical barriers had previously been investigated with the costs deemed too considerable considering the parking incoming.
Barriers had been erected at the Leisure Centre where it was feasible and cost effective, however the site affected most recently would prove difficult to secure given the number of entrances and egresses. Officers undertook to re-investigate feasibility on some other sites.
Officers summarised the recent case, the actions taken, the balance which needed to be struck and whilst not ideal, encampments on council land were more easily resolved than those on private land.
Turning attention back to the Strategy, Members’ referenced previous annual decisions to suspend car parking charges for events, usually at Christmas, and it had been intimated that this would become part of the Policy, to prevent such requests having to be dealt with. Members suggested this was not reflected in the Strategy and should be, with further suggestions that free charges should apply to one Christmas event in each town, where charges applied, and one event each Summer.
During the course of the debate and in response to comments and points raised, the following amendments were proposed.
1) That the following wording be added to the conclusion of recommendation 5 – “and will include detailed proposals on opportunities to “green” the Strategy.”; and
2) That a new recommendation be added as follows: - “The Council will consider opportunities to “green” its Car Parks during the next three years and bring forward proposals to the appropriate committee where necessary.”
Further discussion ensued and whilst fees and charges for parking would be reviewed in the same timescales as all other fees and charges, some Members considered the free parking offer did need to be reviewed, but that some level of free short term parking needed to remain. Again, the issue of close proximity parking was raised and it was considered, despite some Members requests, the feasibility of parking within the Market Place had not been thoroughly investigated but should be.
At the request of a Member who sat on the Gainsborough Transport Board, Officers outlined recent discussions, and spoke of the additional town centre parking, and re-configuration of the Market Place the cinema development would bring about, introducing parking almost in the Centre. The anchor rejuvenation and regeneration project had very much considered how people moved around the town centre and sought to open access back up in into the heart of the Market Place.
The benefits were disputed, with some Members considering, if the cinema was to reach the figures expected, the car park would be full on all occasions and offer no additional parking for town centre businesses. It was suggested that Lincolnshire County Council were very supportive of the idea to park in the Market Place yet this Authority, it was suggested was been obstructive. The idea had support from local business and local residents and the Leader of the Opposition sort indication as to the process by which he could request a feasibility study be undertaken.
The Director of Planning, Regeneration and Communities addressed Committee and outlined rationale for previous decisions related to the use of the Market Place. As had been discussed, shopping related activity currently primarily took place in the early morning, the purpose of bringing the cinema into the Town Centre was to increase footfall in that area throughout the later afternoon and into the evening. Modelling had shown that there would still be scope for spaces, particularly for those shoppers that wanted to “pop and in-out” very quickly.
The recently signed off Levelling-Up Bid had included a whole piece of work on the Public Realm Strategy and use of the Market Place. This had been presented to Committee and provided the direction around creating a Market Place with a café-like culture, a greener environment, to sit and have coffee, a very different and complementary offer to the layout of Marshall’s Yard.
The designs for the public realm of the Market Place would be subject to broader public and business engagement, as also agreed by the Committee, and that work would commence through the Levelling-Up agenda. As such Committee had taken a decision on its Strategy around parking in the Market Place and the next steps were to engage on the detailed designs. The Levelling-Up Bid had very much been made and awarded on the basis of delivering improved public realm in the Market Place and to create a thriving centre at the heart of the Town and as such significant capital money had been apportioned to that aspect of the programme. Officers undertook to also pursue conversations with County Council through the Transport Board.
With the amendments made earlier in the meeting duly seconded, on being put to the vote they were CARRIED.
Further discussion ensued and there was some disagreement as to County Council’s position, as stated by other Members. Some Members noted the desire for Market Place parking was also absent from the recently adopted Gainsborough Neighbourhood Plan, driven by the Town Council. The Consultants report did not suggest further parking provision was required. Some Members were of the view that decisions on such matters had already been made and more evidence would be needed. It was counter suggested that the evidence was not been sought.
It was suggested that resident parking should be investigated, with the aspirations to have people living above the shops, and there may be opportunity to introduce a resident charging scheme. Again, there were differing views as to whether these were needed, viable or feasible.
Following lengthy exchange it was RESOLVED that: -
(a) the draft Parking Strategy and Action Plan be approved;
(b) operational oversight and delivery of the Action Plan be delegated to the Director of Planning, Regeneration and Communities;
(c) car parking tariffs and free parking periods be considered as part of fees and charges during the next budget setting process.
(d) a joint working approach with neighbouring authorities regarding the roll-out of electric vehicle charge points, be approved for adoption by Officers, with oversight by the Land, Property and Growth Board; and
(e) the Parking Strategy be refreshed within 3 years and to include detailed proposals on opportunities to “green” the Strategy.
(f) the Council considers opportunities to “green” its Car Parks during the next three years, and proposals be brought forward to the appropriate committee where necessary.