TRADERS across Tunbridge Wells are preparing to launch a campaign against proposed changes to parking as fears mount over the impact on their businesses.
Around 20 representatives and owners of shops based on The Pantiles and the High Street met yesterday (January 31) to discuss what should be done about planned alterations impacting some 40 roads in zones A and C which cover two thirds of the town.
Coinciding with the closing of the public consultation on the issue, the meeting was chaired by Alan Wood of kitchenware shop Trevor Mottram, who said the option of acting as individuals had ‘come to an end’, leaving organised representation as the only way to sway the council.
Ideas such as circulating a petition to customers, seeking greater representation at the Town Forum (a regular meeting of Tunbridge Wells organisations which feed into the council) and merging Pantiles and High-street trade organisations were put forward.
Traders spoke of a minority of ‘vociferous’ homeowners in the affected zones intentionally vandalising their cars or ‘moving their vehicles from driveways onto the road at 10am’ to block bays used by non-residents.
But the overall consensus was they should work to persuade homeowners and residents associations of their value to the area and prevent it descending into ‘us versus them’.
Mr Wood said: “Residents want to live here because it is a beautiful and thriving place. We need to show them what they stand to lose if businesses cannot operate and are forced to close.”
There was also general criticism of the council’s policy of selling parking permits to households with driveways.
Maria Musgrove-Wethey of The Pantiles Bride said 80 per cent of her customers come from out of town and many already find it hard to park.
“If homeowners already have a driveway, why should they also have parking permits?” she added.
David Podbury of Pantiles Cameras said council figures show resident’s parking permits are oversubscribed relative to the number of places available, by 166 per cent.
This means residents are battling with each other for spaces just as much as they are with customers, many of who are visiting Tunbridge Wells from the surrounding area.
The current proposals are not going to resolve the issue, he said, adding: “People from out of town are not trying to get free parking. It’s just that there is no parking.”
What are the changes?
The proposed changes involve limiting parking to ‘permit holders only’ from Monday to Saturday 8am to noon and 3pm to 8pm (or 7pm on some roads) and Sunday 11am to 3pm.
This will mean parking for shoppers and visitors on most roads will be limited to just three hours in the middle of the day, as opposed to the current option of a two hour slot at any time.
Who supports the changes?
Resident’s associations representing households in the affected areas broadly back the plans. They argue the uniformly imposed changes across the zones will help prevent commuters and ‘other long-stayers’ making life ‘increasingly difficult for residents’. They also believe that current parking arrangements are not-viable ‘in the long run’, and the only way to resolve the issue is through sustained investment in parking infrastructure throughout the town.
Big businesses makes its voice heard
The meeting, of mainly independent retailers, yesterday came as larger companies also expressed their concerns through the Royal Tunbridge Wells Together business group.
Nicky Blanchard, Chair of the organisation that works to promote the town and includes AXA PPP, Cripps, Fenwick and Royal Victoria Place among its members, said:
“We know that parking and traffic are hugely emotive issues for both residents and local businesses. It is imperative for the health of the town’s economy that we are able to provide as much parking as possible, whether on the street or in local car parks for staff, shoppers and clients a like.
“We have lobbied our members regarding this issue and have received a range of responses and are very concerned about any proposals which would limit or decrease the volume of parking within the town centre without the provision of feasible and operational alternatives.
“We have been invited to attend a meeting with the Council in February and in the meantime would welcome any comments from interested parties.”