Overhaul of town parking

THE days of commuters clogging up free long-stay council car parks in Huntingdon to avoid expensive railway station parking charges are numbered. The town s Riverside and Godmanchester s Bridge Place are favourite locations for those who are prepared to t

THE days of commuters clogging up free long-stay council car parks in Huntingdon to avoid expensive railway station parking charges are numbered.

The town's Riverside and Godmanchester's Bridge Place are favourite locations for those who are prepared to trade 20 minutes' walking to and from the station for a £4.80 saving on railway parking.

But they are taking valuable spaces from people who work and shop in the town centre, meaning it is often hard for local people to find space, Huntingdonshire District Council says.

The council's new three-year parking strategy, which will be considered by its cabinet later this month to will come into effect in April after public consultation, will mean London rail commuters will have to pay at the station or take the bus.

HDC plans to introduce time restrictions that will allow adequate time for local workers but not enough for the extra two or three hours a central London worker needs.

Town centre traders constantly complain that parking is inadequate because shoppers are squeezed out. And residents in areas such as Priory Road complain that they cannot park in their own streets because they are pushed out by shoppers and workers unwilling to pay to park.

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At Riverside, leisure users claim the problem has been compounded by social landlord the Luminus Group building on its own car park in Ouse Walk and colonising the public car park instead. Publicly, Luminus remains silent on the matter. Privately, senior managers say their employees have just as much right to park there as anyone else.

The departure of the council's depot from Godmanchester last month to new premises off the A141 in Latham Road has freed up scores of spaces previously used by HDC workers. When the old depot is demolished, 260 extra spaces will be created there, a short walk across the river from the town centre.

The move should see the value of retail premises at the eastern end of the High Street, between St Mary's Church and the Old Bridge, rise sharply with the additional passing trade.

Huntingdon has by far the most pressing parking problems of the district's four market towns. They should be alleviated to some extent if the planning application to re-develop Chequers Court, due soon from the land's owner Churchmanor Estates, includes a multi-storey car park. But HDC cannot wait for that if the town centre economy is not to die on its feet.

HDC wants a hugely ex-panded commercial and residential town centre, taking in all the land between the current centre and the railway, including a new link road between Ermine Street and the railway station, and parking is a vital part of the mix.

One thing is for sure - charges are going up. Long-stay parking is likely to cost £1.50 a day in Huntingdon - time-limited to discourage rail commuters - and short-stay charges are likely to rise by one-third, for example from 30p to 40p for the first hour. That may seem steep, but charges have been stable for the past three years and will be for the following three years, so the increase over the six-year cycle is not much ahead of the Retail Prices Index.

And it will still cost a fraction in Huntingdon of the prices charges in any of the nearby city centres.

In addition, Mill Common will become short-stay only and workers with season tickets will no longer be allowed to park within the ring road.

The only free parking in Huntingdon town centre will be for disabled people, and HDC plans to crack down on abuse of blue badges.

There will also be trials of new ticket machines that accept credit cards, better signing on the ring road and messages to tell drivers which car parks have spaces, as in Cambridge and Peterborough. And there could be reduced prices for low emission vehicles on the same basis as Vehicle Excise Duty.

HDC's consultants, Steer, Davies, Gleave have advised that park-and-ride schemes - beyond the one to be built in St Ives for the guided bus link - are not viable in Huntingdonshire. Their judgment was that the town needed 160 extra spaces, but Bridge Place will deal with that when the depot goes.

The play area at Riverside car park will also be moved from its current location in the middle of the car park to create additional spaces.

The play area will be erected in another part of the park and the football pitches will remain untouched.

Meanwhile, the council has been talking to train operator First Capital Connect and Network Rail, which owns the land, about putting a second deck on part of the west-side car park at the station to increase the number of spaces there.

Because the southern end of the car parks on both sides of the railway lies so low, there would be little visual intrusion, planners believe.

Some of the existing parking, adjacent to the station approach, would be lost if the A14 viaduct were demolished after the new Huntingdon southern bypass is built and a new access road to the station built from the east would be lost, but decking the car parks would more than make up for the displaced spaces.

St Ives needs little change for the moment unless remedial work to the "New Bridges" displaces on-street parking, though displaced drivers might have to fork out £1 to use free space in the Dolphin Hotel car park for the day. HDC and the county council will monitor use of the guided bus park-and-ride facility after it opens in 15 months' time.

On-street charges may be introduced in The Broadway and The Waits.

Parking will remain free in Ramsey.