One of the best things about my constituency – particularly areas like Highgate and Muswell Hill – is the large number of independent retailers that line the high streets. We have unique bookshops, bakeries and antique shops, to name but a few. It sets us apart from other high streets, which have become dominated by chain stores.
In these tough times, however, many of these valued independent retailers have been struggling and need a little extra help. In September last year, a local business owner contacted me, reporting that independent businesses in Muswell Hill had suffered months of poor trade after the parking prices were increased from £1.40 to £3.
In my view, we should be doing as much as possible to encourage people to use these shops. That’s why I wrote to Labour-run Haringey Council, telling them how frustrated I was with their parking charges, which are having a detrimental effect on many shops and businesses. I asked them to reconsider the charges asap.
These charges will naturally put people off, and I expect many people feel forced to go to a big shopping centre or supermarket to shop, where they can park for free, or at a cheaper rate.
Disappointingly, in their response to my concerns, the Council confirmed that a decision had been made to make no further changes to the charge of £3 per hour.
This response did not, however, deter the local business owners and campaigners. Traders in Muswell Hill put together a petition for lower parking charges, which attracted a whopping 5,200 signatures. My Haringey Liberal Democrat colleagues also started a campaign for up to 30 minutes free parking on our high streets – so people aren’t put off from popping in to these unique stores.
Due to the overwhelming support for these campaigns, the traders were able to bring their petition to a full meeting of Haringey Council in November. In response the Labour administration sanctioned two days of free parking at Christmas.
Whilst this was welcome – I do not believe it goes far enough. These shops and retailers need help all year round – not just for two days over the Christmas period. Parking charges need to be lowered permanently, and 30 minutes free parking would also be a most welcome encouragement for people to drop in to local retailers.
I believe the Council are being really short sighted here – if these shops struggle and have to close, not only will the community lose a local service, but the Council will also lose a substantial amount of money in business rents and rates. But I’m afraid this is typical of the Labour administration – who are simply more interested in a quick buck on parking fares than preserving our community assets.
The President of the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) has said he supports the Liberal Democrat campaign. The BCSC has worked closely with Mary Portas, contributed to her report for Government and has identified lower parking charges as a critical issue in the future for town centres and their fight for survival.
I am glad, therefore, that the campaigns for cheaper and free parking still have momentum, and I will be lending my full support to them!
Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey & Wood Green
Tel: 020 8340 5459
She blogs at www.LynneFeatherstone.org and is on Twitter at twitter.com/LFeatherstone
Email: [email protected] or write to me at House of Commons, London SW1A