No easy answers to car problems

PUBLISHED: 11:01 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 10:01 04 May 2010

CHANGES in the public car parks, both physical and regulatory, that are currently being made are all designed to improve access for shoppers and visitors alike. Some will have immediate effect whereas others will take many months, even years, to reach the

CHANGES in the public car parks, both physical and regulatory, that are currently being made are all designed to improve access for shoppers and visitors alike. Some will have immediate effect whereas others will take many months, even years, to reach their potential.

Certainly, we intend to monitor the situation closely and make modifications as they become apparent. What is clear, however, is that there are no perfect answers and no easy solutions.

The provision of public off-street car parking is very expensive and each of the spaces in Ely's car parks costs the Council Tax payers of East Cambridgeshire more than £250 per annum for rates, maintenance, monitoring and CCTV. That sum is twice the Council Tax levied by the district council on the average home. The purpose of this expenditure is to support access to and, the provision of, retail and commercial services for our local population.

In the city centre and the older parts of Ely there are hundreds of homes that do not have any provision for car parking. We are even obliged, by government diktat, to give permission for city centre development of housing that specifically excludes the provision of car parking. This situation creates difficulties for some local residents. Some choose not to own a car, a few make private arrangements with their neighbours, the vast majority park in the hundreds of largely unregulated spaces on streets, and others use the public car parks. For those who use public car parks, the rules have now changed. People have always been obliged to remove their car from the car parks for at least one hour each day. Now they will need to ensure that they have moved their car by 9.30am at Ship Lane, Newnham Street (long stay) and Fisherman's car park, Barton Road or by 12.30pm at Forehill. An annoyance for some, no doubt, but the changes in the rules are essential to persuade commuters not to use these car parks and to enable a commensurate increase in spaces for short and medium-term parking - essential for the continued economic prosperity of the city. We have considered all the ideas that have been put forward and they all tend to increase the utility of the public car parks by local residents. This would reduce their community purpose and undermines any justification for them to be "free".

We have clearly stated that we would like to take-over the thorny problem of on-street car parking from the police. However, this is many months, maybe even years away. We will examine the pros and cons of resident's parking zones at that time, although, those who currently have little problem parking will not want to buy a permit. Also, more residents would choose to use the public car parks and this would further reduce the ability of the car parks to support the city's function as a local market town. It is probable that these conflicting demands could not be managed without the introduction of car park charges and I am sure that this would give rise to considerable debate.

Cllr John Seaman has said, on many occasions, that it is impossible to do the right thing without upsetting someone: this is a simple truth that I would have to endorse. I would further ask that you consider the broader picture and even a prize that may be to hand. If, by increasing access for shoppers and visitors we can demonstrate a greater foot-fall on the streets of Ely we will significantly improve the potential viability of town centre developments that could provide more retail units and a wider range of local service and choice. Now that is something to aim for.

BRIAN ASHTON

Leader, East Cambridgeshire District Council

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