Free parking to save Southend town centre

The front page headline in today’s Southend Echo reads “We need free parking to save town centrequoting Adventure Island owner Phillip Miller who is also reported as saying we need free parking to help town centre businesses to compete with out-of-town retailers where the parking is free.

As a lifelong Southender, I have witnessed over the years the gradual demise of the High Street. My take is free parking is just one of the factors but I agree that inaction will lead to further deterioration and my feeling that for economic, social and environmental reasons this would be a bad thing. I also get it that the money that comes into Council coffers from parking payments is significant and if parking charges were to be reduced, even if not done away with altogether, that money needs to be found elsewhere.

As a frequent visitor to the town centre, while not enthralled concerning town centre parking and having to pay for it, my response is fairly philosophical and while there is a case for more parking spaces, what is available is generally adequate, except on those “busy” times, that as a Southender I try to avoid. I suspect making parking free won’t necessarily have the desired affect and could be subject to abuse by locals. The busiest times are at weekends, especially Sunday and bank holidays, when the sun is shining.

The areas most affected are along the sea front. In the article Mr Miller is quoted as pointing out that the problem is a lack of parking spaces and that so far this year we have had six days when traffic into the town has been gridlocked as a result. Obviously, for sea front trade (including and especially Adventure Island) that is bad news because the upshot might well be that on such days potential visitors having had this experience won’t return again, and this will affect the town’s economy. While slightly off topic, visitors do bring problems too including the enormous amount of litter some leave behind.

So the issue to be faced when planning the future of our town is manifold and here are my three:

  1. There needs to be sufficient parking spaces for those busy days for visitors coming to the town to avail themselves of its amenities, whether shopping in the High Street or taking advantage of all what the sea front has to offer.
  2. Affordable, if not free, parking for those not so busy days is needed, in order to encourage people to shop in the town. Having park and ride schemes or similar have been suggested and these should at least be looked into.
  3. A recognition is need that despite efforts in recent years to regenerate the town centre and sea front areas, thereby enticing visitors into the town, we have not cracked what is needed to achieve this and creative solutions are needed.
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