Living in Penzance as I do I consider myself very lucky, despite all the stories to the contrary, I believe that we still have a vibrant town centre, (for many years I was a town centre shop manager) yes, I know that there are empty shops, currently running at about 10%, but you have to be aware that in more normal times 5%-8% of shops would be empty, this in the trade is known as churn, and without it there would be no turn over, with no new shops opening. No opportunities for changes in use.
So why has the number of shops closing in Penance stirred up so many headlines, new shops that have opened mostly being ignored, with the doom mongers claiming the town centre is in “crisis”, lists of closed shops proudly displayed in shop windows, cries for the council to do something. It should be borne in mind that the largest number of stores that have closed, so far, have been those that are part of national chains; these chains are being hit very hard by the many thousands that are being put out of work across the country as a whole, the true effects of this have not yet truly reached us, but I fancy soon will.
We do not have the large employers, where the laying off of hundreds from one factory has huge knock on effects, our future vitality is being undermined in a much less obvious way, jobs slowly being moved or lost, Penwith staff to Camborne, NHS staff to Treliske, Inland Revenue to Redruth, Remploy factory closing, death by a thousand cuts.
This summer, which seems to have started at last as I write this, will be the break point for many in our high streets; if the number of visitors coming to our towns fall significantly then we could very well have a true crisis. It is my belief that the one single factor that will influence the number visiting and the time they stay is car parking charges.
Car parking charges are in the control of the Tory led Cornwall Council, and what a cash cow they have found. In the year 2010 - 11 parking charges in Cornwall have raised Cornwall Council a surplus of £8,221,000. That’s a bit over £8 million and 2011 – 12 is set to be higher. To give some perspective to this, the Tory led Cornwall Council came seventh (7) on the list of 349 Authorities in England and Wales, only beaten by 6 London authorities and the city of Brighton & Hove, in the amount of surplus raised. West Devon is 210th & Plymouth 215th both raising a surplus of less than £500,000. Devon 283rd raising £283,000. Figures are from an analysis of local authority accounts by the RAC Foundation.
So in one of the most rural areas of the country where a car is essential for most, where we have to attract visitors to our towns to survive, Cornwall Council with a policy of high parking charges is undermining every town centre and business in Cornwall.
So where is all this money being raised by Cornwall Council going?
Local authorities were warned by Mike Penning, the road safety minister, last year to stop treating motorists as an easy target to raise funds.
Town halls are supposed to use their powers to control parking to improve traffic flow and prevent gridlock on their streets.
They are prohibited from using these powers to bolster their income.
Until Cornwall Council bring some sense to car parking charges, every town centre in Cornwall is under threat and then we will have a true crisis on our High Streets.
Later this year I will holiday in Brittany, two weeks, total cost of car parking £0.