Will Leighton Buzzard get three-month free parking trial for town centre?

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The number of free hours per day that Leighton-Linslade Town Council will request to Central Beds Council is yet to be decided.

Leighton-Linslade Town Council is pushing for a three-month trial of free parking in all town centre car parks with the ultimate aim of making it permanent.

Lib Dem leader Councillor Russ Goodchild presented the motion at a meeting of the town council on June 28, hoping that free parking would improve footfall and strengthen the local economy.

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The town council is now in the process of instigating talks with CBC to set the wheels in motion for a trial, and is prepared to underwrite CBC’s potential loss of parking fee revenue during the experiment.

Duncombe Drive car park.Duncombe Drive car park.
Duncombe Drive car park.

Cllr Goodchild told the LBO: “This is primarily intended to give something back to the shoppers and visitors to our High Street and would lead to an increased footfall that should benefit the economy.

“This motion also intends to set a marker for an improved town centre experience and generate public enthusiasm for the town council to commence serious negotiations with the local authority about transferring ownership and/or control of the car parks serving the High Street.”

During the meeting, it was suggested that one to two hours of free parking might be most effective but agreed that all-day free parking should not be encouraged.

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However, exactly how many hours of free parking it will request for the trial has not yet been decided.

Cllr Goodchild added: “The motion is designed to address the future of our High Street with a vision toward 2050 that most progressive communities are planning for.”

The move comes after the recent announcement that CBC’s free Saturday car parking initiative at Hockliffe Street and Duncombe Drive would end on June 26.

The offer had been started to encourage shoppers to support local retailers after lockdown restrictions eased, but CBC has now ended the period “in line with the easing of national restrictions as part of the government’s roadmap”.

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But Cllr Goodchild claimed: “I heard that some people were still paying to use them on days when they were free. It was rather half-hearted, and needed more advertising.”

Gennaro Borrelli, chairman of LB First told the LBO: “It’s something that LB First and The Federation of Small Businesses have been lobbying CBC on for quite some time now even before the pandemic started.

“There’s been disparity across Central Beds where car parks in the southern part are run by CBC - which happened when it was the old South Beds District Council - whereas in the Mid

Beds part of CBC their car parks are mostly run by parish and town councils, which was the case when it was Mid Beds District Council,

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“We’ve always felt obviously that when [CBC] parking [charges] increase then it tends to disproportionately affect the businesses in the southern part of Central Beds.

“We are going to resume lobbying for a proper strategy and the town council is supporting us on this and has put forward proposals, looking at doing a trial. There is the possibility going forward from that the town council may take over the running of them.”

He added: "We would prefer one to two hours of free parking - what we find is that you end up with cars parking all day for people who work nearby, so it can be abused in the sense that there's no free parking for shoppers and visitors. It's good for people who are just nipping into town to do their banking and visit a couple of shops.

"Equally, it's good for people who want to come into town to shop and then stop for lunch with friends - they could get the first hour or two free."

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Cllr Goodchild concluded: “Hopefully, CBC will come on board and look at dropping the charges for shoppers and visitors to see what effect that will have.”

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokeswoman, said: “Leighton-Linslade Town Council have expressed their interest to arrange an informal meeting with our Parking Enforcement Manager, who will be able to provide more information and for the town council to discuss their long-term aspirations.

“Free parking, in response to the pandemic, began on Saturday 3 October 2020 and ended on Saturday 3 July 2021. The parking was only free on Saturdays only for Duncombe Drive and

Hockliffe Street in Leighton Buzzard and Priory Gardens and Ashton Square in Dunstable. Notices were put up in all affected car parks and machines were bagged up each Saturday so users would not have been able to pay.”

>Would free parking entice you into town more? Email [email protected]