Jo Churchill MP backs greater flexibility to local parking to help “preserve the charms of our historical towns”

On Friday 3rd February Jo Churchill MP spoke in the House of Commons, in favour of the new Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Bill; making provisions for variable charges of both off-street parking places and designated parking places.

Delivering greater powers to local authorities; the Bill intends to make it easier for local authorities to lower their charges to promote the economic vitality of town centres. Furthermore it aims to deliver local authorities the power to consult with, for instance, businesses or interested parties who seek to increase the cost of parking, to ensure the impact on the town is given full consideration.

Speaking in the debate, Jo Churchill MP began by highlighting some of the challenges of parking in and around, for instance, Bury St Edmunds town centre; drawing on what the Bill must aim to address.

“In Bury St Edmunds, a town of 40,000 people, there were 550 [thousand] long- stay car park uses and 1.387 million short-stay car park uses last year.

[However] we have problems in the medieval grid, and I was pleased to see the masterplan come out this week. It says that we will have a policy of using varying procedures to stop the off-street parking that blights so many people’s lives, particularly in the medieval quarter of the town. We must provide solutions and give local councils the ability to set the right solutions, and the masterplan encourages a blend of “pedestrian first” measures to restore and keep the medieval grid for pedestrians, tourists, shoppers and residents.

The small grid, which is not only beautiful but historic, needs attention to make sure that it is not blighted by parking. I agree… that we have a vibrant economic environment and that people need to park for work. Luckily, we have a wonderful tourist attraction that draws people to the town, but other market towns very much need the flexibility to vary parking charges.”

Yet Mrs Churchill went on to praise the ‘common sense’ intentions of the Bill especially in delivering greater powers and flexibility to local authorities; ensuring local decisions are rightly taken in the locality.

“…we should not be looking for a one-size-fits-all solution. A sense of place is about local authorities understanding their locality, including businesses, residents and the people who visit the town. Our towns are changing, which is why local authorities need flexibility.

In the town of Bury St Edmunds, residents live near businesses and tourist attractions, and a vast number of tourists visit. As I mentioned earlier, we have getting towards 2 million short-stay parking slots each year in a town of some 42,000. That shows the popularity of the town, but it also shows that we need to have local flexibility and accountability.

A very different situation exists down the A14 in Stowmarket, which is also in my constituency. Stowmarket has a less vibrant town centre, so the local authority will need to apply different measures to accommodate its businesses and stimulate a vibrant economy that is right for the town… the provision is about building communities. It is about people having the time to go into town centres and actually enjoy where they live.”

Yet importantly, she went on to highlight the pertinence of the Bill and its aims, to the needs of rural businesses and communities “where a lot of the trade has to come in from villages and so on, and that we need to aim for accessibility and the ability to control prices to facilitate businesses, which we want to survive…”

In particular, Jo Churchill emphasised the variation across rural areas and especially between the needs of market towns, saying:

“In my area, I have a county council, a borough council, a district council and three town councils. Very often, it is only the fact that those councils work well together that facilitates solutions, despite the complexity involved in different authorities owning different car parks. For example, when Stowmarket Town Council wished to have a cheaper parking rate of £1 for two hours, [this] was facilitated through collaboration with the district council... There might be a little more work to do to deal with areas where things are not as simple as in a unitary authority or a metropolitan authority so that those areas can have conversations that facilitate changes to their local environment—to their car parking—more quickly than is possible at the moment…

…there are also great things in Stowmarket and Needham Market. However, these places are different, and we need to understand how the Bill can address that…”

Speaking after the debate, Mrs Jo Churchill MP said:

“Car parking is a pertinent issue within the constituency and this Bill really is about delivering common sense to town parking. Speaking regularly with local authorities, much of what this Bill provides for is already being explored at a local level, and councils are keen to making parking not just suitable, but beneficial for the town and its visitors. I therefore wanted to welcome the Bill and ensure that it will work to facilitate the local authorities by delivering greater powers.

I want to see that this Bill delivers the flexibility local authorities need to make implementing new measures, effective. For instance, the delivery of bus services in and around Bury St Edmunds could be improved with extended powers to local authorities, to manage car parking charges alongside the delivery of bus services; helping manage the flow of traffic and improve accessibility to the town centre.

It is these and others measures that I, alongside our councils are working towards; ensuring we preserve the charms of our historical towns which drive our thriving tourist and business sector, and which make our centre a wonderful places to live and visit.”…