Fears that new parking fees will turn already struggling main streets into ‘ghost towns’
Residents and businesses in Oadby and Wigston fear the number of vacant stores could increase if a proposal to introduce a parking fee is implemented.
A six-week consultation organized by Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, which ended on June 27, fueled numerous petitions against the shared idea as part of a proposed parking strategy.
While a firm decision has yet to be made, businesses fear their Covid-hit shopping streets will only get worse.
The move, if it goes through, will replace short-term, three-hour free parking with a pay and display scheme. Ten downtown car parks in Oadby, Wigston and South Wigston would be affected.
LeicestershireLive spoke to members of the local Oadby community about what they think.
Jim Gannon, business manager of Zeph’s Cafe at Trinity Methodist Church, said businesses would be directly affected by the proposed changes.
He said: “You only need to look at the number of stores closed to see how Covid, in particular, has already impacted businesses.
“It’s the same in Wigston. Both have what I would say are convenient malls that we depend on a lot.”
Frazer Robson, who is also director of Zeph’s Cafe, said he “understands the issues facing the council,” but felt the time was not right to make such an accusation.
“Considering what we’ve been through over the past 18 months, this is a terrible time to bring this,” he said.
Mark Lucas, who runs his business from the indoor store, Oadby House, said the parking fees would create a “mental barrier”, deterring people from coming to the area.
“It’s not necessarily a question of money,” he said. “It’s knowing you have to pay and having to figure out if you have the right change and so on.
“The minute people call us, they ask about the parking situation every time and right now we can say that there is free parking,” he added.
The store often sees customers outside of Oadby, but Mark said they could lose them with the introduction of parking fees.
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Claire McManus has lived in Oadby for 43 years and has witnessed The Parade’s recent “decline” since the start of the pandemic.
“It will just turn into a ghost town because it will prevent people from coming to shop,” said the 43-year-old.
“Businesses are already struggling to get back on their feet after Covid and the streets are already falling apart,” she added.
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Area Tory MP Neil O’Brien vehemently opposed the proposals, saying the consultation was “kept in the dark” by residents.
Claire said she didn’t know about it until someone filed a petition at the vape shop she works for.
But 380 people responded to the consultation and the petitions signed during the period had nearly 6,000 signatures.
A majority of 284 people who responded said it could negatively impact convenience stores and downtown viability, and 65 said they would be likely to shop elsewhere if the fee was introduced – Fosse Park being a likely alternative.
After ten years running a hardware store on The Parade, Fateemah Hassanali, who runs the business with his partner, said the idea of filing a complaint was “disappointing”.
“Small businesses like ours have struggled – it’s our bread and butter and many of us are just making ends meet because of Covid,” she said.
The 32-year-old said she hopes the council will consider the voices of local businesses.
“I hope they really think about what they are doing for the good of local businesses,” she added.
One of the concerns raised during the consultation was the potentially damaging impact the changes would have on seniors.
Debbie Smith works in the local Costa where she says many of the regulars are older people, eager to get out of the house and have some company.
“It’s not fair to them – they need the ease to be able to go out and get that release and a lot of them won’t come if they have to pay for parking,” she said.
The many charity shops along the shopping street often rely on unpaid volunteers who would need a place to park, as well as footfall that many people fear the area will lose.
LeicestershireLive understands that the draft car parking strategy has been approved by the full council prior to consultation.
Currently, no firm decision has been made, but in the future, if no changes are made to the project, the final decision will be made by the lPresident of the Council and Head of Law and Democracy.
Councilor John Boyce, Head of Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, said: “Our car parking strategy consultation project has created a healthy and transparent debate in our communities.
“All of these responses are now gathered and considered before making final decisions. We have received a large number of responses – and we are grateful for them.
“The fact remains that the cost of maintaining our car parks has become unsustainable and a way to finance them in the future must be found.
“As soon as we have an update, we’ll share it with our communities and businesses. “