Parking ban on commuters

THE days of commuters clogging up residential streets near St Neots railway station to avoid £5.40-a-day railway station parking charges are numbered. Following the success of a similar scheme in the Scholars Avenue area of Huntingdon, where banning parki

THE days of commuters clogging up residential streets near St Neots railway station to avoid £5.40-a-day railway station parking charges are numbered.

Following the success of a similar scheme in the Scholars Avenue area of Huntingdon, where banning parking for an hour in the middle of the day cleared the area of London workers' vehicles, the district council is set to propose a ban to help residents of Longsands Road, who lose their street daily to a sea of cars.

To help, train operator First Capital Connect has plans to add 200 spaces, including 50 already agreed, to the station car park, as well as making the station Disability Discrimination Act-compliant by installing lifts and a wheelchair-accessible footbridge.

Much of the cash for the station improvements will come from Gallaghers under the planning deal that is allowing the company to develop the 1,250-home Loves Farm estate nearby.

The parking move was revealed this week as HDC set out details of its parking

strategy for the next three years, from April.

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Little change is need for St Neots, other than to address a shortage of spaces on market day, Thursday morning. The council believes this will be achieved simply by removing long-stay parking in Tan Yard car park, making it short-stay only.

One thing is for sure - charges are going up. Long-stay parking is likely to cost £1.50 a day and short-stay charges are likely to rise by one-third, 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.

Fears that the town's Riverside car park would cease to be free - unlike its Huntingdon counterpart - have proved groundless.

Each of the district's four market towns will be treated differently, because they have different parking requirements.

Parking in Ramsey will remain free and St Ives needs little change for the moment unless remedial work to the "New Bridges" displaces on-street parking. 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 when it opens in 15 months' time. On-street charges may be introduced in The Broadway and The Waits.

The main changes are in Huntingdon, where many people from the south of the district work.

The council is set to act to empty long-stay car parks of London commuters' cars by setting a time limit that would enable Huntingdon workers to continue to use the edge-of-town car parks, but not those with longer journeys.

Huntingdon'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.

The council's new parking strategy, which will be considered by its cabinet later this month and will come into effect from April after public consultation, will mean London rail commuters will have no choice but to pay at the station or take the bus.

Town centre traders constantly complain that parking is inadequate because shoppers are squeezed out.

At Huntingdon's 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 completely 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 shortly, 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 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 expanded 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.

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

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.

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 Huntingdon station to increase the number of spaces. 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.