Parking charges in Bedford are set to be frozen once again for 2020, meaning they’ve remained the same since 2017.
At its meeting on Wednesday evening, Mayor Dave Hodgson’s Cabinet also confirmed the retention two free hours on Saturdays and free parking all day on Sundays in Bedford town centre.
With recent figures confirming that UK high streets are in deep crisis, it’s hoped that the Council’s third successive annual parking charge freeze is a boost for Bedford’s retailers and shoppers.
However, the Conservative Group leader, Cllr Greame Coombe’s felt that – given the turbulent conditions in the nation’s high streets, that this is too little too late.
“In this context the ‘freeze’ is simply not good enough in supporting our magnificent independent businesses,” said Cllr Coombes.
‘Mayor Hodgson is responsible for treating motorists as a cash cow with a 26% increase in the standard two hour charge to £1.90 since 2010.
“This is expensive compared with the £1 charge for the same period in Milton Keynes and the free parking available every day in Rushden.
‘The town centre is facing an unprecedented challenge from internet trading and out of town retail. In 2018 there was a 4.82% drop in footfall, a trend that continued into the first half of 2019, and we lost our flagship Marks & Spencer store in May.”
The Mayor’s cabinet has agreed to retain two hours’ free parking – everyday at Queen Street car park and every Saturday in all car parks – and free Sunday parking.
Commenting, Bedford Borough Council executive member for town centres, Cllr Henry Vann said: “We are cutting the real cost of parking year in and year out for people using Bedford town centre for work, leisure, and shopping.
“We’re supporting local shoppers and backing local businesses to keep bucking the trend in the face of the wider crisis for all town centres.’
“With another freeze and free parking options available every single day alongside numerous events, our fantastic independents, and new and exciting businesses opening there’s every reason for people to visit and enjoy Bedford town centre.”
Just last year, the Bedford Independent carried out research into parking costs in other nearby towns.
Our findings show that to park within a 15 minute walk of the town centre, it’s the same or cheaper to park in Bedford as it is in neighbouring shopping destinations.
The Conservative Group’s Cllr Coombes feels that more could be done to encourage shoppers into the town.
“The Conservatives’ 36 point-plan for the future of our town centre sets out the need to back our businesses with more free parking. We need to be more ambitious to help our town centre thrive.”
However, in a statement from the Mayor’s office, “The repeated car park charge freezes and free parking offers introduced in recent years mark a stark contrast with the approach inherited from local Conservatives, who more than doubled car park charges in just six years before Mayor Dave Hodgson was elected.”