All North Northamptonshire Council car parks could be FREE if councillors agree to proposal
Currently two of the former council areas offer free parking while two charge
Parking charges across the whole of North Northamptonshire Council-owned car parks could be dropped if councillors agree to a motion to 'consider free car parking in all council owned car parks' to be debated this week.
A bonus for Corby and Kettering motorists who have traditionally paid to park to use the town centre facilities, charges could be brought into line with Wellingborough and the former East Northants towns.
Cllr Martin Griffiths, former leader of Wellingborough Council, where car parking in all council-owned car parks has been free, has put forward the proposal, and has been seconded by Cllr Jean Addison, leader of the Labour party at North Northamptonshire Council (NNC).
Up until the introduction of the new unitary council, car parking charges were decided by each separate council, but now the four different systems are to be discussed by councillors on Wednesday night (July 28).
Cllr Griffiths said: "In Wellingborough there has been free car parking for 40 years. I know that some people in Kettering have concerns that if there is free car parking in the town they could be used by commuters coming into the town to go to London or Sheffield, or for people using KGH. But there could be an ANPR system with a time limit of, say, three hours.
"There are people coming into Kettering as a base to travel to other parts of the country. What you should be doing is to attract them into the town centre.
"Wellingborough invested £4m in the multi-storey car park. That's what we should be doing with all car parking that we have. All I'm asking is for the car parking to be looked at."
Currently, due to the pandemic, only Corby's NNC owned car parks are charging motorists - at the Corby Cube and the George Street car park behind the Savoy cinema. Kettering's NNC-owned car parks are currently free.
In January 2020, before the pandemic hit, latest figures from the RAC Foundation revealed Kettering Council made a parking surplus of £149,000 in 2018 to 2019, down from £258,000 the year before. As recently as 2013 to 2014 that figure was as high as £354,000.
Charges to park in Kettering Council car parks had been amongst the highest in the area and the then Labour opposition leader had urged the council to introduce two hours of free parking to boost town centre usage. It was rejected by the Conservative administration.
Declining footfall figures had impacted Kettering Council's car park income particularly since Marks & Spencer closed.
The same figures also revealed that Corby Council made a surplus of £4,000 with East Northamptonshire Council, where car parks are free, making a loss of £54,000.
Wellingborough Council, whose car parks are also free to use, made a loss of £307,000.
Cllr Griffiths said: "Free car parking in Wellingborough encourages footfall, especially by people who live in the villages who rely on their cars and have no buses. They really value the free parking. It would be unfair for the towns that haven't charged to introduce charges.
"I will fight tooth and nail against car parking charges in Wellingborough. It would be detrimental to our businesses and they need all the help they can get. We need a vibrant hospitality scene. Town centres are changing. We need them to offer different things. Kettering will have the GLaM, Wellingborough can be the heritage centre. We have made the shops far more attractive with the frontages being made more attractive."
The motion put forward says: "This council appreciates and understands the huge negative impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on local businesses and in particular the high street retail and hospitality sectors.
"North Northamptonshire Council should support its local businesses, and our residents and the executive should consider free car parking in all council owned car parks and look at other initiatives to improve and stimulate our town centres.”
Cllr Griffiths, who was elected as a Conservative councillor, now sits as an independent.
He said: "Free car parking was in the Conservative manifesto. It will be interesting to see what happens."