Leighton Buzzard shopkeepers invite residents to come inside and sign petition about High Street access

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The shopkeepers are calling on CBC to either 'have the high street reinstated or completely pedestrianise it but offer free parking for shoppers for up to one hour'

Determined Leighton Buzzard shopkeepers have launched a petition in response to Central Bedfordshire Council's plans to hike up car parking prices.

Residents are invited to visit The Secret Courtyard, Little Ducklings, Lauren's Cafe, Dees Cards, and Dillamores to sign the document, which urges the council to think carefully about the future of the High Street.

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The shopkeepers are calling on CBC to either: "have the high street reinstated or completely pedestrianise it but offer free parking for shoppers for up to one hour", as they fear customers will be driven elsewhere.

Leighton Buzzard Market Cross. Photo: Jane Russell.Leighton Buzzard Market Cross. Photo: Jane Russell.
Leighton Buzzard Market Cross. Photo: Jane Russell.

CBC has currently launched a consultation about its car park prices, which will "mostly" increase by 50 pence.

A spokesman for the shopkeepers told the LBO: "The council are considering raising parking charges, which will put our parking charges higher than those in Central Milton Keynes shopping centre.

"Plus, if you forget your change and have to resort to paying by card/mobile then the minimum payment is £3.50 - even if you only need to pop to a shop for two minutes. This is ridiculous.

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"During lockdown, the council and government encouraged shops to provide new services such as click and collect, which is great, but if people can't access the high street [due to pedestrianisation] or park for free, then how can shops offer a click and collect service?"

The collection of views were put forward to CBC Councillor Carole Hegley, Andrew Selous MP, and two town councillors during a meeting at the end of August, where businesses raised their concerns about shoppers being "driven away" if the price increase goes ahead.

The spokesman claimed: "Since our meeting with Andrew Selous we have received details back from Ian Dalgarno that there will be a public consultation regarding the opening of the high street; however these consultations are only available online, meaning those that don't have internet access can't vote. The system is also flawed because you can vote more than once.

"Why are the council not sending people to the High Street with clipboards and talking to people face to face?"

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He added: "At present it is difficult enough to encourage shoppers to visit the High Street with many shops having to invest in marketing and social media, and what does the council offer in return - nothing. They only seemed to be doing all they can to discourage shoppers."

Concerns have also been raised about the amount of traffic using the high street, despite it being pedestrianised.

The spokesman alleged: "The high street has not been pedestrianised and £110k was wasted paying Ringway employees to sit in cars. On any given day there are taxi drivers, delivery drivers and heavy goods vehicles constantly using the high street speeding up and down. So why can't shoppers?

"Why can't the people who pay to have the privilege of our high street use it, why on earth can't buses and blue badge users have the right to be able to easily access the basic amenities they have had for years?"

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A Central Bedfordshire Council spokeswoman said: “We understand residents and businesses will be concerned about increases to car parking charges and the potential impact on businesses and the vibrancy of local town centres. The economic success of a local area cannot only be attributed to the cost of car parking. Other issues such as availability of public transport, level of car ownership in the local population, changes in shopping behaviour are also important factors.

“Although we are proposing to increase some public car parking charges, mostly by 50 pence, we are not proposing to increase charges for market traders, business or employee permits. We also offer an afternoon of free parking in Duncombe Drive car park in Leighton Buzzard which is not changing.

“We would like to encourage all residents to participate in the consultation and tell us what they think of the proposals and also make suggestions on other options we could consider.

“The consultation is now live on our website, www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/consultations. Paper copies of the consultation summary document and questionnaire can be requested by emailing [email protected] or calling 0300 300 8301.”

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On the reason why the charges are set to increase, the CBC consultation states: "Some of the services we provide, like services to support vulnerable adults and children, are costly and are under increasing demand. As described above, parking enforcement and residents' parking zones cost more to run than the income received. Any additional funding we make in car parking income, or through efficiencies, goes towards off-setting some of these costs and limits the need to increase Council Tax. We aim to contribute £300,000 to our budget from the changes to car parking charges."

What's your view on the proposed parking fee hike and the impact of pedestrianisation? Email [email protected]To read our previous story about the issue. visit: https://www.leightonbuzzardonline.co.uk/news/leighton-buzzard-businesses-worried-planned-parking-fee-increase-risks-driving-away-shoppers-3357739