Councillor calls for free parking experiment in Banbury and Bicester

EMN-150510-132759001
EMN-150510-132759001

A call is being made to suspend car parking fees to test claims that shoppers are deterred from coming to Banbury town centre because of the highcost involved.

The move, by Cllr Sean Woodcock, leader of the Labour group on Cherwell District Council, comes as figures show a drop of 24 per cent in income from parking.

Mr Woodcock’s proposal would mean Cherwell’s car parks in Banbury would be free on Thursdays for a month.

The experiement would take place in February to ensure the findings were not skewed by Christmas or the January sales.

“Everyone is concerned about the future prosperity of the town centres for residents, visitors and businesses,” he said.

“Revenues to the authority from district council car parks and from commercial rental income - in particular at Castle Quay - have taken a hit in recent months.

“My proposal is to make Thursdays a free parking day for the whole of February next year and see what difference it makes.

“New and proposed retail outlets and those already on the edge of town provide free parking and Banbury and Bicester town centres are losing out.”

“The council’s net income from parking is quite substantial but there is a decline in revenues from district council car parks and from commercial rental income in particular at Castle Quay, Banbury because of empty shops.”

Mr Woodcock said the free parking would only be in force from after 9.30am to ensure commuters could not take advantage of the scheme.

He said the purpose of the experiment would be to see if free parking resulted in higher footfall and more custom for town centre shops.

If that were the case, shown by the statistics for free-parking days, the council could start to discuss innovative ways of recovering the lost income.

Any solution would be sought by liaising with shopkeepers.

“We would encourage people in shops that were benefiting from extra business to come up with ways in which free parking could be the norm, as it is in Northampton, Abingdon, Witney and Chipping Norton,” said Mr Woodcock.

“But we can’t seek creative solutions until we know whether free parking encourages more people and the extent of that impact.

“At the moment there is a lot of guesswork flying around; there is no analysis at all. We need evidence to go on,” he said.

Mr Woodcock’s motion will go to full council on Monday.

Cherwell’s parking income surplus in 2013/14 was £1,197,000 but that dropped 24 per cent to £908,000 in 2014/15.