Paying the Price for Free Parking

by For Fleet's Sake
 

THE REAL COST OF A ‘FREE’ 30 MINUTES

Hart District Council announced recently that they were “seeking consultation over proposed changes to off street car parking charges”. The proposal would look at offering free parking for 30 minutes in an effort to boost local high streets and encourage greater footfall in local towns. So how would this be implemented and would it help or hinder our struggling shops?

Below: Press Release from Hart District Council – 17th October 2019.

While on the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be a down side to the offer of free parking to help the high street, would 30 minutes really make that much of a difference? It would certainly help people who just wanted to run in and out of a shop (very quickly) but it does feel as though an hour’s free parking (minimum) would be more beneficial to the town, encouraging people to look into another shop or make that extra purchase? The letter does indeed mention that option but would require full funding by the Town Council, without any additional support from Hart and seemingly ruling out the option of a jointly financed venture.

But, as with most things that seem to be free, there is a price to pay behind the scenes, casting doubt on whether the proposed plans will end up saving people money…or costing them even more in the long run. Hart District Council have asked local town and parish councils to share their views on the current review which puts forward the ‘free’ 30 minute ticket option…as well as details about other price increases planned to make up for the shortfall in profits.

PROPOSED NEW PRICING STRUCTURES

Half an hours free parking in Fleet will currently cost you 20p. Under the new proposals this will be free…but you will still need to get and display a ticket, meaning that there will be a cost involved every time you park, something that seems to immediately undermine the very premise of a free option.

When asked for details of the proposed prices increases by a local resident, Councillor Angela Delaney of Hart District Council declined to share the details stating it will be done “one step at a time” and that this stage was for the “town and council parishes to have their say”. When asked why the public couldn’t even be allowed see the range of options available the request was left without a response.

So here are the details for you…under the plans the 4 hour parking charge will be raised from £2 to £3 and there would also be the introduction of a new 3 hour long stay ticket which would cost £2, in fact the new addition appears to be essential to the entire scheme as it states that  unless this additional charge is introduced, there will be no free 30 minute parking.

Below: Letter to Fleet Town Council in reference to the newly proposed charges.

The letter goes on to detail the difference in parking charges for Fleet, depending on whether the new free 30 minute option is offered or not. So just what would be the best option for Fleet?

Below: Parking charges with and without the new 30 minute ‘free’ parking.

Revenue collected in 2018/19 in Fleet: £648k

The letter states “To achieve financial sustainability for this initiative in Fleet it is proposed that the income lost from the provision of 30 minute free parking should be offset by introducing an up to 3 hour charge and increasing the up to 10 hour and all day charges to £7 to £8 respectively.”. However, looking at the pricing tables above, they appear to show a price increase whether the 30 minute option is adopted or not. Confusing indeed.

INCREASES IN NEIGHBOURING TOWNS

The pricing structure changes being discussed are not limited to Fleet though. If you are curious about how we compare to other nearby locations, these are the proposed increases for Hook, Hartley Wintney, Blackwater and Odiham…

HOOK PROPOSED CHANGES

Revenue collected in 2018/19: £22.4k

HARTLEY WINTNEY PROPOSED CHANGES

Revenue collected in 2018/19: £74.2k

BLACKWATER PROPOSED CHANGES

Revenue collected in 2018/19: £96.9k

ODIHAM PROPOSED CHANGES

Revenue collected in 2018/19: £27.4k

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE?

So while the headlines may focus on ‘free’ parking…it isn’t strictly free as you will still be paying for it, albeit in a different way. In fact it would be interesting to see the actual breakdown figures for car parking charges in Fleet, could this actually result in an even greater income for Hart by increasing charges on what are possibly the most popular options? Or maybe people would prefer to pop into town for only 30 minutes as opposed to staying longer, meaning the increased charges will actually go on the most unpopular options?

While this is only currently in the review stages and only open to the opinions of local councils, what would you like to see in your town?

The letter to Fleet Town Council ends with a rather unusual statement that seeks to offer the services of Hart’s Civil Enforcement Officers to any council owned car park. Another gesture of goodwill, or has the whole thing just been a backhanded way of increasing Hart’s income under the guise of helping the local high street?

The devil, as they say, is in the details.

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