THE emotive issue of Cornwall Council’s car parking tariff increases certainly isn’t going to go away any time soon judging from an impassioned plea by an “enraged” councillor for the council to do something about the effect of the rises which are “crucifying” communities in north east Cornwall.
Cllr Andrew Long, who represents Callington – where car park use is the worst in the Duchy since the price hikes were introduced on May 31 – told a Cornwall Council meeting this week (Tuesday, November 21) that “you’re killing our town”.
The local authority’s economic scrutiny committee was discussing a review of the new parking structures and tariffs, which data shows has seen an increase in use in around two-thirds of the council’s 117 car parks between June and September this year compared to the same period in 2022.
However, use has declined noticeably in Callington, Launceston and Boscastle among other towns and villages in Cornwall. Callington is particularly badly hit as the first hour was previously free in a deal between Co-op and B&M but visitors and residents now have to pay £1 for the first hour, which businesses say correlates with a drastic drop in footfall.
Cllr Long said: “I’m enraged about this, absolutely enraged. You’re killing our town. Stone dead. We’ve lost two businesses already. There’s more following suit because Cornwall Council have failed to understand one size does not fit all.”
Directing his ire at council officers Zoe Hall, strategic parking manager, and Vicky Fraser, service director for environment and connectivity, he added: “You say you want to wait until you have 12 months’ figures. We won’t have a town centre at the end of 12 months if you carry on in the way you’re going at the moment. We won’t have a town centre. You won’t have the income because people won’t be going there because there won’t be any shops. That is what your charges have done. That is what Cornwall Council’s decision has done to my town.
“I don’t think car park services have visited Callington or Launceston because if you’d gone there you’d have seen that the prosperity impact has been severe and adverse. Market towns far away from big towns do not conform to what you proposed they’d fit into. What you’ve effectively done, unintentionally I appreciate, is piled on the adverse impact on these two towns in particular and several other villages around.”
He said people living in that part of Cornwall don’t have satisfactory bus services and use of cars “isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity. We are now crucifying them for coming to their nearest town to get vital supplies”.
Cllr Long (Mebyon Kernow / Greens) said: “The car parks are ours, the people of Cornwall, not Cornwall Council’s. You’re supposed to represent our best interests. You may well be chuffed some of these figures have gone up in tourist areas. Brilliant, wonderful. We’re not a tourist area, we’re just normal Cornish people.
“Please, please, please, I urge you, do something about this now, don’t wait until May next year because you will continue to see the decrease in figures. You’re killing our communities.” He added that businesses in dire straits are pointing fingers at the council. “These people are losing their livelihoods.”
Cllr John Conway (Launceston South, Conservative) agreed with his divisional neighbour: “Launceston has the lowest income families in Cornwall closely followed by Callington and – surprise, surprise – we look at the stats now and Launceston and Callington car parks are the ones with the biggest reduction in numbers parking there. I put it to you that the two could be correlated.
“The Cattle Market car park in Launceston is like a desert at present. It’s extremely expensive to park there and is a long way out of town. It was a very cheap tariff, a couple of pounds a day, to encourage people to come to Launceston to park their cars. It’s 60 per cent down now. I have a suspicion you would have been making more money as it was. I think you’ve gone too far on the charging some of these car parks.
“All of north east Cornwall is on the reduced list – Bude has gone down, Boscastle has gone down. There must be a reason for it and I think part of it is that’s where your lowest income is, so people can’t afford to use them.”
Cllr Barry Jordan (Camelford & Boscastle, Conservative) also aired his anger over the matter, saying that usage was down in the only car park in his division, at Boscastle, “and it shouldn’t be, Boscastle is a very busy place. People are not parking in the car parks, they’re driving away when they see the prices”.
He added: “Ten per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of nothing, and that’s what we’re getting. North and east Cornwall have a population of around 197,000 people which is a third of the population of Cornwall yet we’re treated very, very badly all the time.
“The changes were made not to benefit the people, but to benefit the officers because it makes it easier for them. It’s time we stopped benefiting the officers and looked after the people of Cornwall. The officers have to listen to what we’re saying. I’ve looked at the figures on the [council’s] intranet – nearly all council car parks are losing money. We have to do something and we have to do it now.”
The council’s portfolio holder for economy Cllr Louis Gardner (Newquay Central & Pentire, Conservative) intimated that Callington hadn’t helped itself: “We can’t blame all the woes of a town centre on town centre parking. Cornwall Council has put almost £3m into town vitality. Callington only applied for £17,440 from the Town Vitality Fund yet was entitled to £50,000. I’ve seen one Shared Prosperity Fund application from Callington.
“I’m not going to comment on parking, but I will comment that there are towns doing amazing things all over Cornwall to increase the vitality of the town centre. At the moment, Callington is not.” Addressing Cllr Long, he said: “I’m willing to work with Callington in order to do that and get the money that was allocated to you. The whole answer is not parking. I appreciate for your town parking may be part of the problem.”
Cllr Long responded: “I’m sorry but you’ve never been to Callington – we’re not the population of Newquay, we’re a population of 6,000 people. One of the smallest towns you can get in Cornwall. I’d welcome you to come to Callington and any help you can give us, and ask you to talk to the businesses in town about how car parking charges have affected us.”
The committee’s chairman Cllr Martin Worth (Saltash Trematon & Landrake, Conservative), who recently visited Callington, agreed with Cllr Long that the council did need to do something to help the town.
Officers pointed out that parking is now free in Callington in the evenings until April. A residents’ parking scheme with 50 per cent discount is being brought in next year, which officers said could help people in Callington and other areas.
The portfolio holder for transport, Cllr Richard Williams-Pears (St Austell Poltair & Mount Charles, Conservative) told the meeting: “As we can see in the room today, parking is a very emotive issue. We’re all the same team here and working for the same goals. I would like to take a little bit of the rhetoric out of what’s been said. We need to look at the figures and understand the macro changes. I can see a lot of people have taken different readings from the report.”
He said the parking changes were made when visitor numbers were down by 10 per cent but overall usage of Cornwall’s car parks has in fact gone up. “I can assure you that the officers and myself will spend lot of time looking very hard at the parking figures to review going forward,” he added.
The committee’s deputy chairman Cllr Peter Perry (Camborne Roskear & Tuckingmill, Conservative) replied: “I hate to say this Cllr Pears but I think there is still work to be done on this for a number of reasons. Launceston had an appalling increase. When you look at these decreases [in usage], look at the consequences – if these percentages were transferred to money values, as an economist wouldn’t we be slightly more alert that we’re losing quite a lot of money.”
He said that Cllr Long’s comments made him realise more than ever that more work needs to be done to protect shopkeepers and other businesses. “That’s for the portfolio holder to consider,” he stressed.
Councillors asked for responses to action points raised in the meeting to come before them before they next get together.