Businessmen want parking common sense

HUNTINGDONSHIRE business leaders believe conservationists are wrong to object to much-needed additional car parking space in Huntingdon s Riverside Park. The district council wants to add 105 spaces to the existing car park, but the Campaign to Protect

HUNTINGDONSHIRE business leaders believe conservationists are wrong to object to "much-needed" additional car parking space in Huntingdon's Riverside Park.

The district council wants to add 105 spaces to the existing car park, but the Campaign to Protect Rural England says extending parking in a flood plain would have an adverse environmental impact.

John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said: "They simply don't understand the issues. I can understand the concerns of people living nearby but, if you live in a street where you can't park your own car near your home, you understand the desperate need for more space. And I can't think of a better location.

"We should be grateful the town centre is becoming more vibrant and successful, and this is a very positive suggestion for alleviating the problem."

He said the longer-term answer was the multi-storey car park planned for the redevelopment of Chequers Court, but that was unlikely to be available for two or three years.

"We need a balanced debate here, not just emotion," Mr Bridge added.

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Emma Thornton, Huntingdon's town centre manager, said she understood residents' concerns, but urged them to wait for the public consultation next month on the Civic Trust's vision for the town. She said this would put the proposal into its wider context.

"This is very encouraging and clearly links in with the master plan for this the Riverside area considered by cabinet in 2004, which seeks to enhance the parkland area with increased leisure facilities and improved access by foot, cycle and river," she said.

"Whilst Huntingdon has entered a significant period of exciting development, one of the biggest challenges facing the town is the lack of adequate car parking provision for both shoppers and people working in the town centre."

She added that with the opening of a number of new development s in Huntingdon - including the justice centre, county council offices and Saxongate - the parking shortage in town could become "chronic".

"With the opening in the town centre of the new Combined Justice Centre, new Cambridgeshire County Council offices, the Saxongate centre and the new HDC headquarters, where there will be reduced car parking on site, the situation is likely to become chronic and increased provision is required now.

"The extension of the Riverside is one of the very few short-term solutions open to us, if not the only one," she said.

Malcolm Lyons, chairman of the 800-member Huntingdonshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the proposal had been part of a wider consultation about development of the riverside economy some time ago, when people had an opportunity to comment.

"You have to look at the broader picture. There's a complete plan for that area and this is only part of it. The council wants to open up the whole corridor to make it more desirable for residents and visitors. We support anything that makes it look better," he said.

Mr Lyons, who also chairs the district's economic forum, is keen to see leisure opportunities expanded along the whole length of the Great Ouse.

Local Conservative politicians have now called on HDC to hold off a decision until a town-wide debate has taken place.

Councillor Mike Simpspn, HDC's deputy leader, said: "There are worries over the polarisation of concerns with regard to the town's parking problems.

"Whether you are a resident in the town, work in the town or are just visiting, we have a problem. There are too many occasions when the town centre becomes saturated with cars and parking spaces are unavailable."

HDC's head of planning services, Steve Ingram, said there had been a great deal of public interest in the application, which would be considered by the council's development control panel. A decision, which would not be before the September meeting, would take account of an emerging new car parking strategy for the district.

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