BUSINESS leaders are calling on local authorities to work with firms to ensure the cost of car parking does not deter town centre visitors.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) issued the call after research showed councils across England raked in £884m in parking, permit and penalty charge notices (PCNs) in 2011, a rise of nearly 10 per cent in three years.
Wigan motorists are being particularly hit as the borough forms part of the FSB’s Merseyside, West Cheshire and Wigan region which was fifth nationally for issuing PCNs to drivers, doling out 228,529 in 2011. The region also collected more than £19m in fees.
The research comes just days after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Wigan Evening Post revealed the local authority collected more than £475,000 in parking finest last year and around £2m in car parking fees in the last 12 months. It is also still owed another £11,300 by Wiganers who have fallen foul of traffic regulations.
However, Wigan Council said parking costs in the borough compared well to surrounding towns and there were also numerous free parking options for cash-strapped shoppers.
Phil McCabe, development manager for Merseyside, West Cheshire and Wigan FSB, said: “A combination of restrictive parking and steep fees is harming our town centres.
“We ask that local authorities look again at how they administer parking and do not put short term revenue raising ahead of long term economic growth.”
The FSB wants councils to meet the Government and businesses to discuss creative solutions to parking issues and ensure heavy parking charges are a last resort.
The organisation’s research shows urban retailers believe parking is a significant issue affecting footfall, with 59 per cent of retail businesses in towns saying reducing the cost of parking should be a priority and 53 per cent wanting to increase the number of spaces available.
FSB national chairman John Allan said: “We know there is no such thing as free parking, but local authorities need a voice in the community about how the cost and availability of parking affects their business.
“FSB experience shows that when parking charges are introduced many shops suffer. We want to see organisations and local authorities come together to discuss parking provision to make it work for business and for customers too.”
However, Wigan Council strongly defended the borough’s parking arrangements.
Assistant director of infrastructure Mark Tilley said: “Wigan Council charges for parking in higher demand areas of Wigan and Leigh only. Visitor numbers to these areas remain consistent year on year.
“Free parking is available just outside Wigan and Leigh town centres and parking is free in all other town centres in the borough.
“It is interesting that when free parking in the town centre is available, for example on Sundays, shoppers still prefer to pay to park on the private chargeable car parks.
“Wigan’s car parking charges compare very well with other areas in the region.”