Free parking faces axe in Royston

SHOPPERS could be charged to park at weekends, late afternoons, and Sundays in council-owned car parks across Royston.

North Herts District Council is looking at charging on bank holidays at six car parks in the town, but technical changes to regulations to allow charging on Sundays and evenings could be put in place for the future.

The proposals have angered campaigners and councillors.

Campaigner Clive Porter has started two petitions against the possible charges and claims it would take Royston back to “the dark ages” if implemented.

“Things have been picking up – at one point we had eight empty shops in the town centre, now we have one,” he said.

“This is an improvement in the town but it will be turned asunder if this is implemented.”

He is not alone in his concerns, with district councillor Robert Inwood also slamming any such move.

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Councillor Inwood said: “When the stores seem to be working hard not to suffer as much as other places this could be a real kick in the teeth for the smaller traders in Royston – especially the late night establishments.”

The proposals apply to the Angel Pavement, Civic Centre, Market Place, Princes Mews, Priory Gardens and The Warren car parks. It follows a decision made in February by NHDC, when councillors agreed the changes while setting the authority’s budget.

Last year Royston First business improvement district (BID) launched an initiative to bring forward free parking from 3pm, in a bid to attract more people into the town.

Cllr Tom Brindley, portfolio holder for planning, transport and enterprise reiterated that NHDC was only currently looking to charge on bank holidays, and said that car parks would have to be reviewed individually before introducing any weekend and evening charges at a later date.

“Bank holidays are treated as normal shopping days by many residents, and as such, the same parking controls are required,” he said.

“Most local authorities charge, and NHDC is coming into line with our neighbours.

“For evenings and Sundays, this is a technical change to allow flexibility that may be required at some time in the future.

“Initially, the charges for evenings and Sundays will be set at zero for all car parks. “Over the next few years we will be conducting parking reviews in Hitchin, Letchworth and Royston, and where appropriate, the charge may be reviewed.”

However the plans have been met with criticism by businesses, who think they could prove detrimental to the area.

“Sundays are quite a nice day, what would be the point – businesses are suffering, it looks like a silly thing to do,” said Ben Chapman, landlord of The Old Bull Inn, in The High Street.

His concerns were echoed by the manager of the Take 5 sandwich bar in Kneesworth Street.

Hanna Suma said the plans probably would not affect the shop, but could damage other local businesses.

She said: “I think it would be bad. If they kept it the same it might mean shops stay open in the town.

“It would just stop other people from coming down here.”

The Royston area parking review is likely to take place in 2013/14, but a public consultation on introducing bank holiday charges began on June 30.

Residents and businesses have until July 22 to contact the council, and their views will be taken into account before any decision is made to implement the charges.

This process is likely to take two or three months.