Shop local: Retailers caught in middle of argument over Bedford’s parking charges

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Bedford and Kempston Conservatives have hit out at Mayor Dave Hodgson’s claim that parking charges are a good deal for Bedford shoppers, saying they could be cheaper and his claim of charges being frozen is just ‘smoke and mirrors’.

We reported last week that Mayor Dave Hodgson had announced a freeze of car parking charges in the town. Now Cllr Roger Rigby says that since the current Mayor came to power there have been 185 increases and parking for two hours has gone up 26%, negating a freeze as the cost of parking in Bedford has increased disproportionately.

The Mayor’s cabinet have angrily hit back at these claims calling them “cheap party politics”. Cllr Charles Royden, who is Portfolio Holder for Transport and Environment in Bedford, says: “It is disappointing that the Conservatives have indulged in a shameful attempt to mislead the public over car parking charges, at the expense of local businesses. It is a severe misrepresentation of the facts, and one which discourages people from shopping in Bedford and supporting local traders.

“… using the Conservatives’ own ludicrous measure of counting changes to individual tariffs, there has been well over 500 freezes or reductions under Mayor Dave Hodgson.”

So exactly how does the cost of parking in Bedford compare to other towns?

The Bedford Independent looked at the council car park charges in three other towns. We compared them to two hours during the week and at the weekends. We looked at car parks within 15 minutes walk of the centre of each town.

Weekdays

  • Bedford: Free to £2.20 (number of free spaces = 640)
  • Luton: £1.50 to £3.80
  • Milton Keynes: Free to £4.00 (number of free spaces = 120)
  • Northampton: Free to £3.50 (number of free spaces = 2,347)

Weekends

  • Bedford: Free to £2.00 (number of free spaces = 2,603)
  • Luton: £1.50 to £4.00
  • Milton Keynes: Free to £4.00 (number of free spaces = 120)
  • Northampton: £1.20 to £3.50

This does show that Bedford parking charges are the same or cheaper than towns nearby. The figures also don’t take into account the cost of petrol to get to towns outside of Bedford.

Even with these figures, Cllr Roger Rigby says Bedford’s car parks are highly profitable. After car park maintenance and other council costs, he believes there is enough surplus to allow for further decreases in car parking charges for the benefit of town centre businesses.

He adds the Conservatives have further plans to tackle the issues facing our high street, such as lack of footfall, empty shops and the cost of visiting the town centre. When pressed on what these plans were Cllr Rigby declined to say. Instead he deferred to the forthcoming Mayoral Campaign Manifesto that will be announced by Gianni Carofano as part of his 2019 Mayoral challenge.

However, Cllr Royden, believes that any reduction in the amount of money taken from parking charges will have a far more significant impact on Bedford’s place as an attractive visitor destination: “Before Mayor Dave Hodgson was elected the Conservatives held the Portfolio for parking charges.. They left our multi storey car parks literally rotting and they closed them at nights and on Sundays. We have invested millions in rebuilding the car parks, providing new machines, new CCTV, refurbished toilets and new lifts to ensure all multi storey car parks are Park Mark accredited as safe.

“We have also built new surface car parks in Greyfriars and at St Mary’s Gardens and of course these benefit from the usual free parking after 6pm. We also now offer the latest machines which not only take cash and give change but allow card and text payments.”

As part of Bedford Independent’s Shop Local campaign, we would like to know what you think. Are parking charges in Bedford too high? Do they turn you away from shopping in Bedford? Maybe you think the balance is right? Or do you think there should be less parking and more investment in public transport links for the town centre? We’d love to know your views.

Send us an email with your thoughts.