It is interesting today to see some of the key elements in the report by Mary Portas about helping the High Street recover.
As you know this is a subject close to my heart and has been something I have been campaigning about locally in Ilkley over the past few months. So her recommendations are of great interest.
The report suggests that one of the ways in which local councils can help the local shops is by reducing red tape and town centre parking charges. How ironic it was then that last night that I received a phone call from a colleague on the Ilkley Business Forum mentioning a report that Bradford Council was considering introducing parking charges for on street parking in Ilkley.
Now the parking situation in Ilkley is terrible at best,with finding a space very hard at times. While I was in the shop the other week over a dozen customers complained at the lack of parking in the town and I am sure that some potential customers will be discouraged from even making the effort. Thinking about it there has been no increase the number of parking spaces in Ilkley over the last 30 years.
So the idea of the council imposing a charge for on street parking is nothing more than an extra tax on the people of Ilkley. It is a great opportunity to generate revenue for the council and a discouragement for those from outside the town to venture in. I would also ask where this extra revenue would be spent? I am pretty sure it won’t be spent in Ilkley but would disappear into the coffers of Bradford Council as does so much of the tax revenue generated by the people of Ilkley.
What would be more sensible is to create some extra parking spaces that could then be charged rather than make charges on existing free parking. Instead of turning the old Tesco site into more unwanted retail units or nursing home’s this could be turned into a paying car park which would greatly benefit the town. Or perhaps the site outside of town in Ben Rhydding that was earmarked for the new (now scrapped) Grammar School could be turned into a park and ride car park. What I do know is that with an extra 1300 homes planned in the Wharfe Valley over the coming years the pressure on parking will only increase.
What is also interesting in Mrs Portas’s plan is the idea that town centres should be managed by a team in the same way that a shopping centre is managed. This would give focus to the town as a whole for the benefit of all and I for one would sign up to that kind of scheme. At the moment I am not sure if Bradford Council have any kind of coherent plan for the centre of Ilkley at all.
This idea of parking charges comes closely on the back of a call from the Parish Council to charge business’s for the use of A boards in Ilkley. At a time when every shop is fighting for every customer the A board is an essential form of advertising especially if you are slightly off the beaten track. The idea of charging for these at this time once again shows a total lack of understanding of the difficulties faced by local retailers. hopefully retailers in Ilkley will survive despite the best efforts of local councillors.
What I do know is that while times are tough in Ilkley we do have it better than some high streets up and down the country and there is time to save ours for the future. We do have a good mix of independent shops in Ilkley and we all do have great custom from the people of Ilkley who are doing their bit to help save the high street. It’s just a shame those who in power who could help promote Ilkley are more concerned with more regulation and more charges which will actually be detrimental not only to the town but also to the people of Ilkley.