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Council puts the brakes on plans for new car park in Bury St Edmunds

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Plans for a new car park in Bury St Edmunds are on hold after a drop in town centre car parking last year.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council reviewed potential sites for a new car park to cope with demand - with estimates that an extra 485 spaces will be needed at peak time by 2035.

However, following a £109,477 fall in income from car parking in the borough last year and a four per cent decline in parking in Bury, which mainly stems from short stay, the authority says 'this option will not be progressed at the current time'.

St Andrew's short stay car park. Picture: Mark Westley.
St Andrew's short stay car park. Picture: Mark Westley.

The decision was revealed in a report to be presented to the council's overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, January 9.

It notes: "Should there be a reversal of the current trends, the feasibility work already started on a new car park will be progressed to a full business case."

In the short term, the council will promote the park and walk scheme in Olding Road with the offer of free long stay parking and engage with car park owners to provide long stay at weekends.

It will also work with Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District to increase footfall in the town and seek funding from Suffolk County Council to improve signage.

The report notes that there were 2,592,487 car parking transactions between January and November across all car parks in the borough, which is 2.6 per cent down compared to the same period in 2017.

In Bury, transactions dropped to 2,140,313 last year compared to 2,229,391 in 2017.

As a result, income declined by £109,477 to £3,919,776 compared to the previous year.

The fall in Bury town centre is mostly seen in the main short stay 'shopper' car parks particularly in the Cattle Market/arc, St Andrew's short stay, Robert Boby Way and Parkway Surface.

Long stay parking has remained 'fairly strong' with rises of about 1.5 per cent at Ram Meadow and St Andrew's but Parkway multi-storey has seen a drop of 10 per cent, which is 'mainly due to the short stay regime on the weekends'.

The report cites prolonged road works as well as snow and the summer heatwave as having impacted parking.

It adds that new technology is being explored so motorists can pay at the end of their stay and the council is working on a proposal using mobile communications that can be trialled in the spring.

Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mark Westley.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mark Westley.

Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, said a pay on exit system needed to be installed 'asap' to allow people to stay in the town for as long as they want.

He said: "When we don't encourage people to stay beyond four hours as the majority of our available parking is short stay, that's just a huge own goal.

"Our businesses are continually telling us that they're losing sales because people are having to run back because their parking tickets are about to expire.

"The issue isn't whether they build the car park or not, it's what they're going to do to make it a more welcoming place and allow people to stay longer."

Mr Cordell added that footfall in the town centre last year was down 4.1 per cent on 2017.

We haven’t seen the level of growth in overall demand that we expected in 2018 - Cllr Peter Stevens

Cllr Peter Stevens, cabinet member for operations, said their car parks cost about £3 million a year to operate and income from car parking helps pay towards services such as street cleaning and CCTV.

He said: "While in the short term we can manage this reduction in income, we are working with partners to avoid this becoming a longer term trend.

"There does continue to be much greater demand on our car parks on Saturdays and it is also strong whenever the council or the Business Improvement District holds an event in the town centre.

"This illustrates people’s shopping habits are greatly influenced by their broader social experience of the town centre rather than our current level of tariffs.

"It’s no secret that nationally high streets have had a difficult year and whilst performing better than most, Bury St Edmunds is not immune to that.

"We haven’t seen the level of growth in overall demand that we expected in 2018 and for this reason we are a keeping proposals for investment to build a new car park under review."