Two weeks ago I announced the launch of a new campaign to persuade South Kesteven District Council to introduce two hours’ free parking for shoppers at council car parks in Stamford and Grantham.
The idea has struck quite a chord. People care about our town centres. They recognise that they face unprecedented challenges because of the growth of internet shopping. And they know that we will not be able to halt their decline, if we carry on with the same taxes, the same regulations and the same approach to parking.
Last week, the Chancellor showed that he was willing to do his bit by cutting business rates. In a tax cut costing the Treasury £1.5 billion, he announced a £1,000 annual discount off business rates for most high street shops, cafes and restaurants and extended for a further year the doubling of small business rate relief.
We also need to make it easier for people to live in our town centres. As Planning Minister, I have changed planning rules to make it easier for people to convert offices to homes – and will soon be making further changes to facilitate the conversion of shops in outlying streets into homes.
But, just like shoppers, people who live in town centres need to be able to park their cars without paying through the nose. That’s why I support local calls for on-street parking permits to be offered to central Stamford residents. I don’t quite understand why South Kesteven District Council’s cabinet decided to postpone a decision on what looks like a very sensible plan for residents’ parking. But I am confident that they will listen to those who elected them and me and adopt the proposed residents’ parking scheme at the earliest opportunity in the new year.
When it comes to parking for shoppers, I accept that there are no easy answers - although I note that Bourne seems to cope very well with unlimited free parking.
The district council will need to assess the different options and make some difficult judgments.
They may conclude that they should introduce free parking on some days but not others, or in some car parks and not others. What I am certain of is this: unless we make it much simpler for shoppers to park in the centre of Stamford, and a good bit cheaper too, they will continue to spend their money elsewhere: at out-of-town shopping centres where the parking is free, or with online retailers who can bring the entire contents of their shops right into people’s living rooms.