Free-parking campaign takes regeneration spotlight

PARKING PUZZLE -- a petition calling for free parking in Hucknall has gained more than 4,000 names
PARKING PUZZLE -- a petition calling for free parking in Hucknall has gained more than 4,000 names

A WELL-backed campaign for parking charges in Hucknall to be scrapped forced itself on to the agenda of a public meeting this week.

The aim of the meeting, held at Hucknall College on Portland Road, was to discuss setting up a group which would focus on ways to regenerate the town.

But a number of people there insisted that priority needed to be given to making the town centre more attractive to shoppers by creating free parking.

A petition has been launched as part of the campaign and it has already been signed by more than 4,000 people.

Much anger has been caused by Ashfield District Council’s decision to double the cost of using pay-and-display car parks in the town from 20p to 40p an hour.

Hucknall’s town centre manager, Mark Armstrong, who conducted the meeting, spoke about moves aimed at revitalising the town’s Thursday and Friday markets.

But one resident claimed that such steps would prove fruitless unless the thorny problem of parking was suitably resolved.

Another man at the meeting referred to an independent review by retail expert Mary Portas, requested by Prime Minister David Cameron, into the future of high-street shops.

He claimed that one recommendation she made was that parking should be made free in town centres for a limited period to stimulate trade. “Why is this not happening in Hucknall?,” he asked.

A woman at the meeting said people patronising shops in the town centre were constantly worried about exceeding the hour they were permitted to park and getting a ‘ticket’.

A further point made during the discussion was that free parking at the Hucknall Tesco superstore was giving the company a clear advantage over every other trader in the town-centre area.

The secretary of Hucknall Tourism and Regeneration Group, Sheila Robinson, said she did not think the parking charges in Hucknall were high compared with some other places.

But a supporter of the campaign said it was the ‘principle’ of having to pay to park which rankled with many motorists who wanted to shop in Hucknall.

Mr Armstrong said it was not within his remit to control car parks. He added that the petition would ‘follow its course’ and eventually be presented to the council

Hucknall resident Chris Thorne, who has spearheaded the petition initiative, has claimed that the parking charges defied logic and the increases would only make things worse for the decline of High Street, which already had several empty shops.

He has been supported by Coun Mick Murphy, a Hucknall Conservative member of Notts County Council, who has described the decision to put up the charges as ‘outrageous’.

But Coun John Wilmott (Lab), of Hucknall, who is deputy leader of Ashfield Council, has stressed that the charges are helping to maintain front-line services.