5 Dec 2014

What's really the point of "Free after 3"?

Localism is at the heart of Green philosophy and it is incredibly
important that we support local shops and promote effective measures
that encourage people to use their local shopping centres all year round.

However, are Wirral council plans to introduce "free after 3" parking
during the remainder of December really the best we can do to support
the local economy?

Having read what the recent car parking scrutiny review has to say about
"Free after 3" it was revealing to learn that we have no idea how many
motorists took advantage of it in the past and therefore we have no idea
what the cost to the council was or what the benefit to local shops was.

When I enquired what the expected cost of the current proposal is I was
told a budget provision of "up to £20k" had been allowed.

But clearly we don't know the cost which is worrying in itself and leads
me to believe that this is primarily a political gesture.

Now it is instructive to me that we hear and read far more about the
cost of parking than we do about the cost of public transport which of
course has been driven upwards by the misguided policies of the current
government.

So, given that, as a council, Wirral is tasked with supporting local
business, reducing inequalities and improving our environment shouldn't
we be diverting scarce resources to help those people without private
transport access local shopping centres. It is worth remembering the
huge transport inequalities that prevail across Wirral. In Birkenhead
and Tranmere, 56% of households do not have access to a vehicle and are
therefore reliant on public transport.

So, if we are going to spend "up to £20k" on supporting local shops lets
do it in a joined up fashion that supports other key objectives. We
could use that money to reduce bus fares or increase frequency. Or we
could use it to expand 20 mph zones in our town centres and make them
more attractive places to visit. Or we could improve pedestrian/cyclist
infrastructure and achieve more long lasting benefits.

"Free after 3" is a political gesture of minuscule benefit to the local
economy. Unfortunately, it serves the interests of local politicians
more than local traders.

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