Can solutions be found to Leighton’s parking problems?

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An investigation into parking pressures in Leighton Buzzard is currently underway – and business group LB First is urging the public to get involved.

The Central Beds Council assessment is looking at specific local parking issues and proposed options to address the problems.

Last summer the LBO reported on how the battle to find a space in Leighton Buzzard’s crammed car parks had been heating up – thanks to visitors swarming to the town’s splash park and beach.

This week, chairman of LB First, Gennaro Borrelli, said the group had been campaigning for parking improvements for a number of years. He said: “It is one of the main topics that people coming into town complain about to local business owners.”

Several years ago, CBC conducted a parking survey of the town which concluded that car parking was virtually at full capacity.

Mr Borrelli said: “It was at approximately 90% on market days, this includes the supermarket car parks as well as the public ones.

“When we asked if there were any plans to increase capacity given the survey’s results the reply was that the only plans were as part of any development that could happen as part of the South Side of the High Street development.

“This is yet another reason why granting permission for the retail parks was so bad because not only does it jeopardise having more shops in town but, as part of the development, more parking as well as per the original development brief.

“The other problem we have is that parking charges have gone up in the last year whilst the retail parks will be able to offer free parking to customers, hardly a level playing field for our town centre businesses.”

But Mr Borrelli was encouraged by the upgrading of machines in the town car parks. He said: “They will be able to give much more up to date and accurate information. This could be used to provide a more flexible approach to parking charges in general such as some suggestions we put forward last year that had been tried in other towns by local authorities and proven to be successful by bringing in more people into the town centres, increased turnover of usage and much higher revenue.

“One was free parking after three in the afternoon across all the car parks throughout the week, free from 1.30pm was tried in Duncombe Drive on Wednesday afternoons only but we have recently heard from customers that there aren’t any signs displayed for this anymore and so aren’t sure if it is still ongoing.

“One of our suggestions was taken on board and that was to convert the library car park to pay on exit instead of pay and display, we know from customers that they definitely prefer to use pay on exit car parks and consequently tend to stay longer.”

He added: “We very much welcome this overall review by CBC and would encourage local residents to feed back their views, we will of course be canvassing our members’ and customers’ thoughts and will be responding with as much information as possible in order to help Central Beds Council come up with a plan that will help and enhance our town centre.”

CBC says households in the district have a higher than average number of cars or vans: There were 157,000 cars and vans in Central Beds at the time of the 2011 Census, and 47% of households owned two or more vehicles (compared to 32% nationally).

The council says these figures, together with the anticipated growth coming to the area, means car parking is an important issue to everyone in the region including residents, schools, commuters, shoppers and businesses.

Cllr Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services, said: “It’s very important that we manage our roads effectively, and parking is a huge part of this. As a councilor, I’m well aware of the difficulties and frustrations with parking, but this new approach to parking can help to resolve issues.

“Central Bedfordshire is an area where we are anticipating housing growth, new transport infrastructure and new employment sites, so it’s vital that town centres, train stations and residential areas can respond to this growth in terms of parking.”

The results of the consultation will help to inform a draft Parking Strategy. When this is adopted, feedback from local area assessments in key towns will be used to understand if there are any areas in Central Bedfordshire where parking needs to be improved, at which point there will be further public consultation.

To have your say, visit www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/consultations or pick up a paper copy at your local library. The questionnaire closes on June 16.