Blog from Julia Hayward. Libdem leader of St Neots Town Council
As I write I have in front of me the News & Crier's final conformation that we've lost the next stage of a saga we've been trying to fight off for as long as I can remember. For those further afield, St Neots has two free car parks on the outer edges of the town centre - one at the Riverside Park, one in Cambridge Street. Proposals to introduce charges have come and gone over the years, but this time Huntingdonshire District Council has gone that step further and cabinet has approved charging. It's not a done deal formally, but the final stage, a public consultation, will only tell them whan everyone has been saying all along.
It's certainly focussed minds - councillors at all levels in the town have reacted as one, with uncharacteristic cooperation. Yet letters, petitions, media campaigns, none has been listened to. Attempts to find documentary evidence of a covenant on the land which lots of people seem to remember has peculiarly turned up nothing. Everything meets the same answer - HDC needs to save money. Strange, then, that when rebuilding their offices no expense was spared, replacing everything from epensive furniture right down to the pencils. That when discussions on pay come round, senior officers earning as much as a Prime Minister don't get asked to forego a little in recognition of the size of the hole they are in. That reserves were eaten up over many yers to subsidise artificially low council tax, with no apparent recognition that capping would intervene to prevent a sustainable rate being introduced.
So why are the car parks so important? There are others in the town that are already pay and display. But the two free ones provide an incentive for people not to drive through the centre of town - an area that consistently fails air quality checks - and over the single bridge which seems to be a permanent traffic jam. The Riverside offers access to the jewel of the town, the river and the beautiful areas along it, a jewel which should be open and free to all. And both draw shoppers in out of convenience, who would otherwise go off to Bedford and Cambridge, or even Tesco on the bypass - with a relatively restricted range of shops St Neots needs every last advantage it can get to keep its High Street flourishing.
Of course some people will be determined not to pay - and no doubt we'll be forwarding complaints from residents of the Paddocks, of East Street and Avenue Road, who can no longer get easy access to their own houses as their streets are turned into an impromptu extension of the car parks, in the same way as we currently see around the station. That issue has been another running sore for years.
But there's more. What do I read? "Cllr Rogers said the move would save around £100,000 and that free parking for three hours meant nobody would pay in reality." Well, if noone is going to pay in reality, how will any money be saved? Has anyone added up the cost of vandalism to the machines, or of enforcing a very unpopular imposition that I expect will be flouted? Did the sums assume that the two parks will remain pretty full as they are now? And all that for £100k at best - when the hole is £6M deep and growing.
It's not even as though HDC are looking forward to a plan to introduce sustainable alternatives to car travel in town, as they too feel the brunt of cuts. But that's another story.
PS: during the campaign, Cllr. Bob Farrer threatened to resign from the Conservatives if they went ahead with the charging plan. Bob, if you're reading this, it was a very noble gesture...
The site has been a bit neglected of late. Gaps will be filled in due course - where have you heard that one before? - but I thought I'd make a start now and at least keep up future posts! Anyway, a new year brings a new look. Appropriately enough, Pantone have declared turquoise to be Colour of 2010. "It is believed to be a protective talisman, a colour of deep compassion and healing, and a colour of faith and truth, inspired by water and sky." Well, that's good enough for me. It also seems good enough for the Liberal Democrats, although I will claim that it complete coincidence!
Member since: 10th July 2012
Lived in St Neots since 1975 and boy how its changed, always looking to promote everything great in and around our town.