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Grantham traders raise concerns about impact of a proposed hike in car parking charges

Fears have been raised about the impact of a proposed hike in parking charges will have on a town’s fortunes.

Grantham is caught in a classic “chicken and egg” scenario, grappling with dwindling footfall and a shrinking number of shops, as highlighted by a local councillor. Amidst this retail conundrum, there’s growing concern among local businesses that proposed hikes in parking fees could exacerbate the town’s challenges.

Recently, South Kesteven District Council green-lit a rise in parking tariffs for Stamford and Grantham’s pay-and-display car parks, a decision that has sparked debate among the community. The new charges include a £2 fee for overnight parking, a £3 levy on Sundays and Bank Holidays, and a shift making Conduit Lane a short-stay zone.

Concerns have been raised about a proposed hike in parking charges Photo: Ellis Karran
Concerns have been raised about a proposed hike in parking charges Photo: Ellis Karran

Yet, there’s a silver lining with the introduction of two hours of complimentary parking on Wharf Road and one free hour in other municipal car parks. Despite these concessions, Dan Powell, owner of the beloved collectables store Gambit 73 on Westgate, voices a common sentiment: the current rates are manageable, but any increase could be detrimental in these tough economic times.

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“Do they really need to charge on a Sunday?” he asked. “Especially with the cost of living these days, people just can’t afford these things.

Dan Powell is the owner of Gambit 73 in Grantham. | Photo: Ellis Karran
Dan Powell is the owner of Gambit 73 in Grantham. | Photo: Ellis Karran

“The council needs to focus on promoting the town and boosting footfall. Grantham is a lovely town and one of the only towns where you can walk to just about any place, but prices going up will drive away trade.

“I’m not saying we should get free parking everywhere, but increasing it feels a bit like they’re rubbing our noses in it. It feels like we aren’t getting any help whatsoever, and as a small business owner I’m not happy about it.”

Another business owner, who preferred to remain anonymous, said it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to hear of proposed parking charge increases, given that “councils all over the country are scrambling for money at the moment.”

The George Centre in Grantham Photo: Ellis Karran
The George Centre in Grantham Photo: Ellis Karran

At South Kesteven District Council’s Finance & Economic Overview Scrutiny meeting this week, CounMark Whittington (Conservative) described Grantham’s current shopping status as a “chicken and egg situation.”

He said that “shops aren’t there because footfall isn’t there, and footfall isn’t there because shops aren’t there,” while also acknowledging that the use of some of the council-owned car parks in the town is “well down.”

It comes as the council is reviewing its parking tariff policies across Grantham, Stamford, Bourne and Market Deeping — and suggestions of introducing overnight and evening parking charges in one of these areas prompted local opposition.

Findings presented in an SKDC report
Findings presented in an SKDC report

Stamford town councillor Amanda Wheeler launched a petition urging SKDC not to bring these charges in the town she represents, after the council suggested introducing overnight, Sunday and Bank Holiday charges across Stamford car parks from April 2024.

This date, however, is no longer the case, according to SKDC Deputy Leader Richard Cleaver, who said the proposals for parking charges are set to go to public consultation shortly, and prices will not change in April.

Coun Wheeler’s petition which has amassed over 2,600 signatures in a matter of weeks, calls the plan “unfair” and alleges that Stamford is “subsidising free parking across the rest of the district.”

Car parking charges can prove a valuable earner for the council, with SKDC bringing in £1.1 million from its car parks across the district last year. 72% of this total comes from Stamford, while 28% comes from Grantham, due to Bourne and Market Deeping currently not being required to pay for SKDC-owned car park spaces.

An independent review into car parking utilisation and capacity across the district found there to be “inconsistent” charges in Grantham, Stamford, Bourne and Market Deeping.

The report states that “an oversupply of car parking” leads to “poor performance of the council car parks,” with occupancy observed as being “generally low” in Grantham car parks owned by SKDC due to the alternative options across the town.

There are currently 823 bays spread across council-run car parks in Grantham, the most of any of the aforementioned four major towns in South Kesteven.

It presents “an interesting conflict with some of the current tariff proposals” for the area, arguing that the proposals of two hours free parking on Saturday mornings at Guildhall Street and Watergate goes against findings of peak capacity during this time, despite there currently being charges in place.

The report states: “Introducing any element of free parking will have a financial implication for the council and could lead to congestion in these already fully occupied car parks if motorists attempt to take advantage of free parking.”

It did, however, also state that other proposals to bring free two hour parking options at Wharf Road multi-storey, and bringing prices down at Welham Street multi-storey could “stimulate demand” and address “current under occupancy.”

Coun Max Sawyer (Democratic Independent Group) said that while rising inflation does present “a case for rising parking charges,” it is his own view that “you don’t beat inflation by rising to keep up with it.”

He argued the idea of charging for overnight, weekend and bank holiday parking would be “harmful” for Grantham and beyond, and said he “very much hopes” overnight parking in particular will remain free of charge.

When asked if price hikes would see the council make a profit, break even or continue at a loss in South Kesteven, the council’s deputy chief executive Richard Wyles said it was “hard to cost accurately” and that he would be “sitting on the fence” due to the council “stepping into the unknown.”

Mr Wyles was also keen to stress that there is still “plenty of opportunity” for residents and businesses to share their views on the matter, with the official process not beginning until SKDC’s cabinet makes its final recommendation.

South Kesteven district councillors unanimously agreed to assess the impact of these parking tariffs over the next six months.

However, it is all well and good having full car parks, but shoppers need businesses to visit while they are in the town, and key areas of Grantham are struggling to keep shops open.

The George Centre, sold for the third time in the space of five years when it was bought for just over £1 million at auction in 2020 after the retail decimation of COVID-19, is close to derelict — with very few businesses actively trading inside the shopping centre.

There are as many as 40 units inside the Grade II listed building, but only a handful of those were open or even showed indications they were still being used, when we visited the town on Friday.

Two pubs within a stone’s throw of each other on Watergate, The Playhouse and The Isaac Newton, are both currently closed, but a stretch of Westgate appears to have much more life in terms of open businesses than other major areas of Grantham town centre.

It is a town steeped in history, remembered for its past success stories of Isaac Newton and Margaret Thatcher, but unless things change in the local business sector of Grantham, more shops could soon become kindred spirits of their town’s heroes — a thing of the past.

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