More traders call for period of free parking as businesses struggle amid the wake of covid and inflation rises

Traders in Birchington say limited free parking would help boost business

Birchington traders are among those calling for Thanet council to consider a period of free, or cheaper, parking to encourage customers to shop local.

During a traders’ meeting last week it was suggested a 10-15 minute free parking period would mean people taking advantage to pop to the Station Road area to pick up goods and cheaper parking fees could encourage residents to spend time to shop and then eat at local businesses.

The plea coincides with a council parking review and comes as businesses are continuing to struggle following the pandemic and then the cost-of-living crisis which has seen footfall plummet.

In December Thanet council appointed Ethos Consultants, highway and transportation specialists, to prepare a strategic review of parking across the district.

At a council meeting this week it was confirmed consultation on the review will begin next week with councillors and in the second week of February for public views

There will be 10 engagement events held with a mix of virtual and in person meetings.

Theresa Ireton, from Monty’s fruit and veg shop in Birchington’s Station Road, said: “From a traders’ point of view, we are hoping we can get our voices heard and try and improve things for us.

“It has been difficult since covid and we don’t want to end up with lots of empty units here.

“Parking is expensive, particularly in Station Road, for when people just want to run in a shop and lots of people have commented to say they’d rather go where it is free, like Westwood.

“Years ago, Station Road didn’t have parking charges but the meters are here now and they can’t be moved. At one point people would come in with their ticket and we’d give them the 20p or whatever for their first half hour parking but you can’t do that now because it is all online.

“We are a village and paying these amounts for parking in a village does not seem right.

“I think it would give us traders a good chance if there was 10 or 15 minutes free parking, people would not then feel that they were being punished for shopping at the smaller shops.

“People have said the council is going to change it so it has to be parking by the hour (rather than linear charges allowing 10 minutes fees) and all by Ringo but 90% of our customers are over 75, they don’t want to pay online.”

Station Road charges are currently 30p for ten minutes, £2.50 for one hour and £4.90 for two hours.

Theresa said: “At the meeting it was said that if Thanet council came up with reasonable charges there would be more money going in the meters than there is now. Lorrain (from Birchington Framing and Print) counted 15 empty spaces on Station Road, businesses are going kaput and for small businesses it is just another nail in the coffin.”

Parking charges

Parking charges across the isle are earmarked for an average 5% rise as part of the council’s 2024/25 budget which will be approved at full council next month.

A document outlining expected fees and charges says: “Charges have been reviewed and increased by 5% where possible, or alternatively a comparable increase at each location so that is rounded to the nearest 10p.”

As part of a review changes suggested include the removal of linear step charging in car parks to make all charges for between 1 and 5 hours and to change car parking for blue badge holders from unlimited free parking to a maximum of three hours.

Paul and Lorrain Edwards

Lorrain and Paul Edwards run  Birchington Framing and Print in Station Road. Lorrain is also the organiser for the village traders’ meetings.

She said: “For us, we are not as busy as we were (pre-covid). There are still not enough people walking up and down the high street and there are often lots of empty parking spaces in Station Road whereas before you couldn’t get a space. The only time it is full up is after 6pm when parking is free.

“Traders seem to favour either 50p for half an hour parking or 10-15 minutes free although you have got to have someone enforcing that.

“Traders in Birchington have done everything we possibly can to get people back here shopping. We have events, sales, craft fairs, children’s trails. We give out free sweets at Easter, I just do not know what else we can do and think the council needs to meet us half way.

“If they keep pushing car parking fees up it will not be feasible for people to come for 30 minutes or an hour to shop or have lunch, they are not going to do it if they have to pay £3-£5 to park.

“The council needs to look at it long term or we will just end up with more empty shops

“At the moment we, and other small businesses, are making just enough to pay the bills, there is just not enough money coming in.

“I know the council needs income from parking but they’d get more income if charges are at a sensible level.”

Income raised through on-street parking charges must only be spent on highways and parking related services and is shared with Kent County Council. Income raised through off-street parking, in council car parks, is retained by TDC.

Birchington business owners are also worried that planned closures of roads including Canterbury Road between The Square and Park Avenue and prohibition on parking in side roads such as Kent Gardens, Surrey Gardens, Devon Gardens & Essex Gardens, will  hit business.

The closures, to allow for SGN works, start on February 5 with some works running through to May.

Theresa said: “They were going to close The Square altogether but now say it will be partly closed so people can still come down Station Road from the roundabout but will then be diverted around the residential area.

“We are panicking that people will think because the road is closed, the shops are closed. Lots of businesses will be affected so we are asking for signage to make sure people know the businesses are open.”

During the council meeting this week Green councillor Tricia Austin also raised the question of a period of free parking for Ramsgate.

She said: “We know that traders, in Ramsgate in particular, are very concerned about increased parking charges and we don’t seem to have a facility in our town for half an hour’s free parking in the way that some other town’s in Thanet do and we would really like to see something like that built into the parking review so that everyone has space where people can pop into town quickly to buy a loaf of bread or whatever.”

The same request was raised earlier this month when journalism student Kieron Day spoke to business owners in Broadstairs.

They said a period of free parking or lower rates would help bring customers to the high street and also said trade was low following the pandemic and then a cost of living crisis.

Parking at spots close to the town, such as the harbour and Albion Street is £2.80ph during the peak Summer season, reduced to £1.10ph from November to March.

Further out at car parks including Vere Road the charge is £1.50ph. On Saturdays parking is free at St Peters Park Road Car Park.

Traders said the lack of time-limited free parking means customers may decide to travel to Westwood Cross where there is free parking for at least 1.5 hours.

Talking of the parking review Cabinet Member Cllr Heather Keen, said: “Our current parking infrastructure requires improvement, including car parks and on street parking. Working with Ethos will provide the specialist support we need to progress this and to make confident decisions around future investment.

“I would encourage local people to participate in our open engagement sessions when we begin the consultation. Understanding the needs of our customers is a priority to achieve a collaborative and joined up approach.”

Find the parking review survey, one for residents and another for businesses, here

25 Comments

  1. Theiving council…. Make as much as they can then spend it on pitches for travellers… No doubt council tax will go up by an extortionate amount. Bus ? Ok but 4 quid return and I already pay 40 to 50 quid a month to run a car. Would love to go into Birchington but the cross is free parking…no 🧠 er….

    • You pay much, much more than £40 a month to run a car, once you factor in all the overheads like insurance, repairs, VED and depreciation.

  2. A small shopping parade in New Addington (Croydon) allows 30 minutes free parking with charging after. Press the button on the meter and a ticket for 30 minutes is printed. Many other councils help traders in a similar way with free parking from 15 mins to an hour. Surely the council here could help shopkeepers in a similar way. Empty shops don’t help the council

  3. We have to learn to think beyond the private car and find other ways to help our shops and small traders. Old style thinking will not solve new problems in new circumstances.

  4. Just look at the amount of cars in the car parks at Westwood retail parks hundreds of cars all because it’s free to park. In the towns free parking should be allowed for an hour at least. I think the ticket wardens in that are on a commission of each ticket they give out they use an unmarked van as well as one with Civil enforcement on it. The guy in the unmarked van writes the ticket out on his machine while he is still in his van then nips out to place it on a vehicle. Shops in our town centres need help to draw customers in not sneaky council parking wardens trying to force customers away. When you think of how much it cost to run a car and what we pay in tax to do so it’s an utter disgrace pay to shop pay to shop pay to park at the hospital. Thieves that what they are common thieves.

    • It’s a fallacy that parking is “free” at WWX. Someone pays the rates, the maintenance, the upkeep and so on.
      And it certainly isn’t the superstores.

  5. Any free parking should be for at least a hour, preferably 2. Less than that will only benefit supermarkets, and not smaller shops and cafes. Birchington is currently still the best High Street in Thanet for proper shops (with Broadstairs a close 2nd), but there are a couple of empty premises, and it will get worse when Birchwood closes in the near future.

  6. Ramsgate has plenty of “free” parking.
    It enjoys the benefits of Waitrose and Asda in the town, and Aldi and Home Basics just a few minutes’ walk away.
    Each of these supermarkets offers “free” parking to customers for about 1½ hours.
    So all you have to do is (for example) pop into Waitrose, buy a newspaper, then you’ve got plenty of time to stroll round town to do any other shopping you need.

  7. Andrew don’t talk daft… again… the store car parks are for THAT store they are NOT there to all and sundry who just so happens to be wanting to park taking up the parking spaces so customers who want to shop at ALDIs -Waitrose-Home bargains can actually PARK at the store!!! if you are one of those parks in a store car park and block a space for genuine shoppers then you are selfish individual. Stores pay £hundreds of £0000s per year in business rates they are NOT there to subsidise the council with parking bays.

    • The same is true of the “free” car parks at WWX.
      And who do you think pays the bill for the “… £hundreds of £0000s per year in business rates…”?
      Not the store owner. Not the owners of the land at WWX, that’s for sure.

  8. Andrew. A store car park is for the store that paid to have their car park NOT for those selfish people who take the spaces up then shop elsewhere.

  9. People park where they like on Station Road in Birchington anyway. Double yellows mean nothing and they are not all blue badge holders.

    • TDC obviously need to employ more traffic wardens (I’ll do the job for free, as long as I can clamp ’em all!).

  10. I just don’t pay to park and still nip into the station road shops. Only had a parking ticket once in 19 years of driving. Reckon I’m quids in. 🤣

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