Join the debate about parking in St Neots

There are limited parking spaces on St Neots Market Square.

There are limited parking spaces on St Neots Market Square. - Credit: HUNTS POST

Can you imagine what would happen if the Mayor of London decided to turn Trafalgar Square into a car park?

Or if the Pope decided to turn St Peter’s Square, in Rome, into a parking lot full of Fiat 500s (and a few Ferraris). After all, aren’t these 'just big empty spaces that aren’t used very much'?

Wouldn’t they be better used as a convenient parking location for motorists who don’t fancy walking?

These fictional plans are intentionally ridiculous. Any attempt to exclude people from well-loved public spaces and replace them with motorcars would be met by universal condemnation.

However, a year after parking was removed from St Neots Market Square, some motorists have angrily demanded that it be restored as a car park.

Now, I’m not for one moment suggesting that St Neots Market Square is equivalent to St Peter’s Square or Trafalgar Square. However, it is the cultural and historical focus of our town. It’s also the biggest, and I think most attractive, market square in the East of England.

Since the pedestrianisation of the Market Square, the St Neots’ economy has started to flourish, with the influx of lots of wonderful independent businesses and a blossoming cafe culture.

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There are very few High Street units that aren’t either occupied or under offer.

However, the complaints from a small, but vocal group of disgruntled motorists persist.

They have said, 'It’s just a big empty space,' and argue that they should  be 'allowed to park on it'. In this column, I will try to address the arguments.

There aren’t enough car parking spaces in St Neots! There are more than 1,000 car parking spaces in St Neots town centre. I drive into town several times a week, and I have never had a problem finding a space. There is more than enough parking in St Neots.

It’s too far to walk! There are four car parks within 0.1 miles of Market Square; many of these are much better placed for shopping.

The needs of people with mobility issues are important, but there are now more blue badge spaces in the Market Square than before pedestrianisation. The High Street is a quarter of a mile long; wherever you park, there will be a small amount of walking to reach the shops.

Car parking is too expensive! When HDC introduced new parking tariffs in 2019, I was the most vocal opponent, claiming that the new charges would damage the town's fragile economy.

I was wrong about that; the town economy is thriving. It costs just £1 to park for an hour in the Waitrose car park, or £3 for 10 hours at the Riverside. If you make a small purchase in Waitrose or Lidl you can park for free.

It’s caused an increase in illegal parking! There has been persistent illegal parking around the edges of the Market Square for as long as I’ve lived here.

Inconsiderate motorists parked illegally when the car park was open. They even parked illegally when parking was free during lockdown. And unfortunately, they will continue to park illegally until civil parking enforcement is introduced next year.

I sympathise with those Market Square residents and business owners who find their access obstructed by illegal and inconsiderate motorists; however, I don’t think introducing even more car parking spaces will solve that issue.

My strong feeling is that the Market Square belongs to the public and that we should not be deprived of its use for the sole benefit of those who can afford to own a private car.

The £12.8m Future High Street Fund investment will reinforce its status as our town's social and economic focus by permanently redeveloping it into a pedestrian-friendly space.

It is doubtful that parking will ever return to Market Square.