Woodbridge businesses have hit back at suggestions that there is “no evidence” parking charges put off shoppers with a survey that proves 81% of people are deterred by the tariff.
Business association Choose Woodbridge asked 325 people living and working in the area a series of questions about parking after businesses in the town launched a campaign to lobby East Suffolk Council for free car parking to help encourage visitors following the coronavirus pandemic.
The results show that 95% would like the council to introduce a period of free parking with 75% saying free parking would make it “highly likely” they would shop more regularly in Woodbridge town centre.
District Councillor Chris Mapey, who also runs The Angel pub in Woodbridge and is a director of Choose Woodbridge, said the results contradicted the council which argued last week that there was “no evidence” the charges put people off.
He said: “I am very supportive of the survey results and will now be speaking to the council to ask for further clarification on their position. We must do everything we can to support and promote the town and get businesses back on their feet.”
Almost 50% of those questioned said two hours free parking would be sufficient for them to do their shopping, with 31% happy with an hour and 15% asking for up to four hours, citing social distancing queues as a reason for making shopping take longer than usual.
Jill Barrett who has led the campaign to introduce some free parking provision, said: “The council have based their opinion on research they carried out in 2019 but with all due respect, the world has changed in the last few months and this research no long reflects the behaviour and attitude of shoppers.
“As Woodbridge comes out of this totally unprecedented pandemic, we need more support to get businesses up and running.”
According to the survey, 35% of those questioned thought installing some free parking should be implemented for six months to help shops through the first stage of reopening while 14% thought it would be better to give it a year.
A further 41% however, believe that some free parking allocation should be applied indefinitely, arguing that the town shops are already at a disadvantage when larger retailers out of town offered free car parks and benefited from lower rents.
Today, a spokesman for East Suffolk Council defended its position claiming, “free parking does not, by itself, support healthy and vibrant town centres.”
He added: “Three million parking sessions were purchased last year in our car parks – and 75% of these were in the category of ‘shopping/ leisure’ trips of up to two hours. So the council does not feel that we are not pricing people out of town centres.
“With finite resources at a council’s disposal, we must ensure that our investment is properly targeted.”
He added that East Suffolk Council was consulting on the introduction of half an hour’s free parking widely across the district.
Lets find out what some of our business owners think…
Jules Button, owner of the book shop and tearoom Woodbridge Emporium on The Thoroughfare said many of her customers would rather pay a delivery charge for ordering books online than the parking fee in Woodbridge.
“The council need to take a look at the economy and realise that encouraging people back into town centres is the best way to help it recover,” she said. “Parking doesn’t need to be free all day; perhaps just three hours a day would encourage shoppers to visit Woodbridge.”
Sarah Sharp, a partner at Hudsons Jewellers said this was a “use us or lose us” situation and that the council should do everything in its power to help shoppers use the town centre more regularly.
“Implementing some free parking provision would also help address the issue of cars driving down our high street which makes it difficult to socially distance,” she said. “I think it would be a safer place to shop and would mean not so many people would park on the Woodbridge Thoroughfare.”
Tim Fincham, owner of The Sandwich Shop said the parking charges were a hindrance to people who wanted to explore the town again following lockdown.
“I don’t think shoppers have any idea how long they’ll be queuing outside shops for once they’ve parked so they don’t know how long to put on the meter and risk being fined if they take too long,” he said. “The council need to help people to support their local shops because by doing so, they’re also supporting the area as a whole to thrive again.”