Charging for parking in South Downs villages could ‘kill rural economy’

Ben Staines, councillor for Bramber, Upper Beeding and Woodmancote, pictured last year

Ben Staines, councillor for Bramber, Upper Beeding and Woodmancote, pictured last year

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Introducing charges in all of Horsham district’s rural car parks could ‘kill a lot of the rural economy’, according to one councillor.

Horsham District Council is currently carrying out a transport survey of Horsham town centre as well as a rural car parking review with the latter involving a detailed user survey of each location to inform a new strategy.

This strategy will aim to cater for future provision for all users including long stay parkers, frequent users, and infrequent visitors, with an action plan produced to address the needs of individual villages.

However during a HDC scrutiny and overview committee meeting last Monday (May 9), councillors raised concerns about the effect of introducing charges and the need for more parking in many locations.

Ben Staines (Con, Bramber, Upper Beeding & Woodmancote) asked: “Is this going to be a back door for charging as it seems like something that’s being considered and I think that would kill a lot of the rural economy?”

Gordon Lindsay (Con, Billingshurst and Shipley), cabinet member for the local economy, said: “I think what the report really says is we are trying to get the data and analysis before we come to any conclusions.”

Nigel Jupp (Con, Billingshurst and Shipley) asked when the results would be available as it had been ‘going on for some time’.

Officers conceded a review of rural car parking had been ‘battered backwards and forwards for a number of years’, and the external organisation would be taking data in June and July.

Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar), chairman of the committee, added: “I just hope these things move on speedily.”

Brian O’Connell (Con, Henfield) explained what while the villages did not have Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to measure car park usage, both Henfield’s community partnership and the parish council, and even with a small high street their two car parks were permanently at capacity.

He argued the challenge was to provide more parking spaces, and added: “We do not want our shops to shut and our villages to die.”

Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham), cabinet member for finance and assets, said: “Quite clearly every village is so very very different.”

He argued there was a direct correlation between the availability of parking and viability of businesses, and although there was not a simple solution, he was ‘pretty certain’ it would be resolved in this council year.

Some village car parks operate disks and vouchers with a number of hours’ free parking, while other places have a maximum stay of 24 hours.

Meanwhile the transport survey of Horsham town centre will be looking to identify current and future transport needs and could make recommendations for changes and enhancement to its car parks.

Although the new Waitrose and John Lewis stores off Albion Way had seen an increase in parking spaces by around ten per cent in the town, Mr Lindsay explained sales in HDC-operated car parks last year had remained ‘more or less the same’.

He added: “That shows there’s a lot more people coming into the town.”

Meanwhile in Piries Place, where the old Waitrose unit has sat empty, the number of people using the adjacent car park had only fallen by 0.6 per cent last year.

Lastly Matthew French (Con, Broadbridge Heath) said they had to ‘think outside the box’ by pushing schemes such as car sharing, and better promoting park and ride.

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