Councillor Hart – Portfolio Holder for Property and Tourism, presented the newly-drafted Staffordshire Moorlands Car Parking Strategy to members of the Panel.
A review of car parking was contained within Aim 4 of the Corporate Plan 2019-23. As part of the recovery from the first wave of Covid-19 in Autumn 2020, this work was escalated within the service plan, such was the importance of parking within the recovery of town centres and to ensure a thriving local economy. Parking Matters were retained towards the end of 2020 to review the existing parking provision with SMDC and to develop a new strategy for the car parks for a 5 year period. The aim was to tackle a number of salient issues, including, condition, payment options and tariffs.
Wide consultation with the residents, local businesses and visitors who used the car parks had taken place. Members Groups, Town and County Council, Peak Park and local business groups had all been included to ensure the widest spectrum of views had been heard. Balancing conflicting opinions and ideas and setting these against factual evidence was often challenging, and it was inevitable that the strategy would not fulfil the wishes of all, however its focus had been to deliver the vision and ensure that positive changes were made and the service invests for the future and meets the needs of residents businesses and visitors.
Following the consultation and review of the Council’s service, Parking Matters produced their base case findings, which were presented to the Car Parking Working Group for feedback. This was then developed into the main report setting out all the findings (Appendix 2). This was discussed by the Car Parking Working Group and Cheadle stakeholder group and further feedback was taken on board. Since then, work had centred around the financial modelling to determine the affordability of free periods and tariff changes in light of impact that Covid-19 had on parking revenues along with the underlying trend of reduction in demand.
The Summary Strategy Report was attached as Appendix 1 and set out the base case findings, reported the outcome of the consultations, made recommendations and finished with an action plan to ensure that the Council’s plans were open and transparent for all to see. If the Strategy was adopted this document would be published on the Council’s website.
Key actions and projects were as follows:
1) Implementation of contactless digital payment provider, such as Pay by Phone to offer an alternative to coin only payments. This could be delivered in the short term, ideally before the end of the financial year.
2) Changes in charging hours and tariffs to be implemented for the new financial year, to include short free parking periods on certain car parks to support quick trips into town centres.
3) Review of parking permits being offered including provision of a tourist pass.
4) Development of a separate EV strategy which determined suitable locations, types of chargers and options for delivery partnerships funding and rollout, supported by the objectives of a County lead strategy to ensure a consistent approach across highways and off-street parking.
5) Implementation of new zones across Tape Street Car park to facilitate short stays, including free half hour options and also long stay parking section.
6) Commence with the recruitment, (subject to final approvals of the Norse project and the restructure of the Assets team) of a new car parking post to implement the actions set out the in the strategy and strategically manage the service.
7) Deliver improvements to wayfinding and signage on car parks.
The Strategy noted the importance of the car parks to regeneration initiatives, and the potential for new car parking and consolidation, but that each of these major decisions needed to be reviewed and a business case determined before any decisions could be made.
Although there was support for the Strategy and the investment plans that it contained, there were concerns raised by some members in relation to the detrimental impact it would have on the town of Cheadle. In particular, the proposed increased charging period of 8am – 6pm and 1 hour free parking at Well Street, and only half an hour at Tape Street. It was asserted that the extended charging times would negatively affect businesses on the High Street and the town would be congested during school pick up and collection times, due to the free 1 hour parking period only being available at Well Street.
Members queried the cost of a new officer, increased enforcement and if the Council had checked the rateable value of the Tape Street Car Park.
It was felt by some members that the report did not reflect the needs of Cheadle, the emerging work of the High Street Task Force and the lack of an agreed Masterplan for Cheadle. If the Strategy was adopted, a member commented that they had the right to challenge parking policies under the Traffic Management Act 2004.
Discussion also took place around a dedicated EV Charging car park, advantages and disadvantages of cashless payments, lack of child and parent bays and consultation in rural areas.
The Portfolio Holder noted the concerns raised by members and explained that the increased charging period generated the income for the Council to be able to offer the free parking periods. Assurance was given that the machines which accepted cash would be phased out gradually and the payment App was compatible with most mobile phones. Other councillors commented that some of the points raised during meetings of the Car Parking Working Group had been incorporated, such as zoned parking areas.
The time restraints in relation to the setting of the Council’s Budget and the adoption of the Strategy was highlighted to the Panel.
Members proposed that the Cabinet should review the Strategy 12 months after implementation to evaluate its impact and that consideration be given to defer the changes relating to the revised charging period in Cheadle. The meeting closed at this point in order for Cabinet members to consider the implications of the proposals with view to a further meeting of the Panel being arranged should this be beneficial.