Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Car Parking anger

Trial charges provoke visitors

As a borough we are doing quite well in promoting tourism throughout the spring and summer months. A host of free entertainment events, carnivals, music, dance, and the arts provided by South Tyneside District Council and others provide a welcome boost in visitors and an injection of cash to our local economy, the vast majority of visitors are to South Shields, and the vast majority of events are held at the coast, our greatest asset.

One only has to visit the Sea Front on any given Sunday during the season to understand how many people we are attracting to the town. Car parks are generally full, and the overflow car park on the "Dragon" (Bents Park) is also well used. No doubt the charges and fees for parking here raise a reasonable amount of revenue which will be used to maintain the car parks in a good condition. It is also worth remembering that the CCTV cameras should ensure that our visitors can park at the sea front assured that their vehicle will be safe.

However, we are used to having no charges at all on some of the car parks between November and March, when the trade in tourism is quite slack! People still come to the sea front, but many of them are locals rather than visitors, they come for some solitude, peace and quiet, they come to sit and watch the North Sea lapping against the beaches, they sit and read their books or newspapers, they watch the birds, they follow the progress of shipping in and out of the Tyne. They don't come in great numbers, and often sit only for around an hour or so, appreciating the beauty of our own coast. Occasionally there may be a visitor or two, perhaps returning to South Shields after a visit during the summer.

Unfortunately, someone within South Tyneside Council has decided to introduce "for a trial period" parking charges for all sea front car parks during this traditionally quiet winter period. Not surprisingly there have already been a few letters published in the Shields Gazette berating the idea.

It does seem to me that the best reason for introducing winter charges is one that will not be spoken of - a source of further revenue. I cannot think of an excuse or reason other than this that would be deemed acceptable by local motorists wishing to use these car parks in winter. As my picture (above) shows it is often not possible to park there at all, because high tides, high winds, and driving rain cause flooding at this time of year.

Any moves which result in deterring visitors to South Shields during the quietest time of the year (i.e. removing the incentive of free car parking) may jeopardize the success of the tourist drive during the summer months. I cannot see any point at all in driving people away, or making them feel as if they are being "fleeced" when it is not necessary.

I sincerely hope that the "boffin" who came up with this idea, and the committee which so sheepishly agreed to it, have a serious reappraisal either as soon as possible, or at the end of the trial period, and agree that it is wholly inappropriate to charge during the winter months.

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