Harrogate motorists braced for summer return of parking fees plan

Parking charges
Parking charges

Harrogate motorists have been warned that controversial proposals to introduce on-street parking charges for Sundays and evenings will return with a decision expected this summer.

North Yorkshire County Council’s (NYCC) executive were set to make a decision on the charges in February but unexpectedly shelved the plans to conduct further surveys.

However, at a Chamber of Trade meeting on Monday (May 9), Coun Don Mackenzie announced that the proposals were due to return ‘in the next months’.

Coun Mackenzie, NYCC’s cabinet member for Highways, again stressed that any decision would be made on ‘traffic management grounds’ rather than monetary concerns.

He said: “Throughout last month our highways officers conducted parking surveys in the town centre on Sundays, during the week and on evenings.

“I don’t want to try and second guess what the report will say but I think, initially, the evidence is that on Sundays the roads are more parked up than in evenings.

“The initial findings don’t surprise me because I go into town on Sunday and there are no parking spaces.

“Motorists can leave their car on a premium car parking space on James Street from Saturday evening right up until Monday.”

The report is expected to arrive in the summer and Coun Mackenzie added there would be no consultation after holding an initial one when the plans were first announced.

Despite originally welcoming the postponement of the plans, Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) may now support the proposals as they aim to encourage more off-street parking.

In the recent town centre study by Peter Brett Associates, commissioned by the council, on-street parking was criticised for obstructing the street scene and limiting pedestrians’ movements.

As a result, the Town Centre Strategy and Masterplan proposes schemes which scrap on-street parking on newly pedestrianised areas including James Street and parts of Princes Street.

Now, Coun Rebecca Burnett, HBC’s cabinet member for Planning and Sustainable Transport, says she will consider backing the charges if they resulted in greater use of off-street parking.

She said: “We know there is capacity in the off-street car parks so we need to utilise these and make sure shoppers are efficiently getting to them.

“Coun Mackenzie has mentioned the proposals and we are having review meetings to look at what evidence they have got to support making these changes.

“If the county council can bring evidence forward to show that what they want to do is needed to improve traffic management then I will be happy to see it.

“If they did bring these charges forward then I could understand their arguments over traffic movement, having more turnover being to the benefit of the shops, but I would really need to see that evidence.”

Both Harrogate residents and businesses strongly opposed the plans when they were initially discussed, with a petition against it attracting more than 2,500 signatures.

While Coun Burnett agreed that arguments to evening charges did not ‘stack up’, she said the benefits of Sunday charges were clear for businesses.

She said: “If I was a town centre business and a proposal for a greater turnover of cars on a Sunday was put forward then I would like to see how that could benefit me.

“It means there’s an opportunity for more customers coming but I know there are some people who are very much in favour of the charges and some who are very much against them.

“Some people think, ‘I will always park on the street’, but it would be beneficial if we can move away from that and make sure they’re aware of other options.

“There’s always capacity in the car parks and there will be going forward and we have to make that clear to people.”

Coun Mackenzie said he was ‘hopeful’ that HBC would support the report when it is released in the summer as it would encourage shoppers to better utilise the off-street car parks.

He said: “If you read the Town Centre Masterplan, HBC favours car parks and says the street scene is affected by the sheer volume of cars parked in and around the town centre.

“It also makes it difficult for shops and other outlets to be serviced. In the meantime, there is plenty of space most of the time in the off-street car parks.

“Off street car parking is cheaper and that’s the way it should be to encourage people to park there. The problem is on Sundays there is no incentive to park there.”