I AM pleased to announce that a total of 4,838 Hucknall residents and shoppers have signed the petition in protest at the recent rises in car-parking charges imposed by Ashfield District Council (ADC). The petition has now closed, and will be passed to ADC very shortly for its consideration.
I do, however, wish to very strongly re-emphasise that the initial impetus for this campaign was not simply about parking fees. I refer you to the Mary Portas initiative commissioned by the government in order to stimulate the regeneration of high streets.
One of her recommendations was to introduce free parking. ADC has chosen not simply to disregard this, but has doubled the charge for the first hour. This has taken place at a time when there are more empty shops on Hucknall High Street, and it seems more are closing almost every week.
In addition, ADC appears to have failed to implement many of the URBED consultants’ recommendations in their report submitted in 2008. One section of the report continues to stick in my mind. It was simply “The health of the High Street illustrates the health of the town”.
How many local residents or visitors to Hucknall could conclude that we have a ‘healthy’ High Street if they took a short walk from the market place to the Byron Bingo hall?
There is no doubt that the arrival of Tesco has had an impact. Firstly, parking there is free for two hours, which is more than enough for most people to complete their shopping.
More importantly, when Tesco first opened, its effect on the High Street was not immediately apparent. It was, basically, a supermarket for groceries. Indeed, many people welcomed it.
What sounded the death knell for the High Street was Tesco’s more recent extension to a second level and diversifying to provide a much wider range of retail goods and services from electrical goods to clothing and DVDs.
Many long-established and familiar businesses have closed, and some premises (e.g. the old Wilkinson site) have remained empty for years.
At a meeting held at Hucknall College on Wednesday last week, the town-centre manager, Mark Armstrong, said “it has become trendy to shop at Aldi and Iceland”. What relevance does this have? These two shops are not “trendy”, simply more affordable. They are nowhere near the High Street, AND they have free car-parking.
At the same meeting, a young lady made the valid point that most of the younger generation “wouldn’t be caught dead” shopping in Hucknall. They take the train, tram or bus into Nottingham. There is free parking at the tram station.
I struggle to see how ADC is pinning its hopes for the town’s regeneration on the inner bypass, the part-pedestrianisation of the High Street and promoting the Thursday and Friday markets.
The inner relief road will simply divert ‘passing trade’ to Tesco’s and free parking; there will soon be no shops on the High Street for pedestrians to shop in; and new stalls on two-days-per-week markets will have a negligible impact on the overall prosperity of the High Street.
Such issues are certainly not restricted to Hucknall alone. Many small towns across the country are suffering in the same way. The major problems will not be solved overnight, but one thing could easily be done to encourage new businesses to consider Hucknall, and that is to scrap parking charges.
It appears to me, and to the many other people I have spoken with over the last few weeks, that there is no robust and coherent strategy in place to regenerate and preserve Hucknall town centre.
Finally, I would like to thank all the residents and shoppers who have signed the petition, and also all the local businesses that have supported it by collecting signatures.
We will await ADC’s deliberation and decision.