This past weekend, I submitted my first letter to the editor of our local newspaper, “The Rotherham Advertiser“. I’m not sure if it will be published, but the text is:
Give us free parking, and we will come.
Reading the [email protected] pages over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing more and more references to Tesco’s parking fiasco and the death of the town centre. Each time I’ve frustratedly yelled “But the issue is that the council aren’t providing free parking!”. After another rant this week, I turned the page to see Graves finally headline the requirement.
In our household, we don’t care about the big high street names, in fact we love the new independent retailers in the town centre; we also drive cars. We want to “nip” to the shops, or “nip” to the library, but if we want to make use of the facilities in Rotherham town centre, we can’t do that. We have to plan our visit, and if, once there, we decide to stay a while, maybe think about having lunch, perhaps buy more than a carrier bag full of goods, we have to pay through the nose for the privilege of doing so.
No thanks, we’ll go somewhere that we can park our car closely, without adding an extra tax. Tesco’s decision to start their charging regime has already got us shopping in the Sheffield store, where we don’t have to mess about scanning our receipts to prove we’re loyal customers. This is despite the plans not being approved or fully implemented yet. Unfortunately this means the odd meander around town and spending of a few quid here and there that goes with our visits has also been taken away.
I’ve been reading about the council’s grand plans for the Forge Island site, but I’ve heard nothing about a large, free car park that such a facility would need, as Centertainment and similar sites have.
Rotherham Council needs to understand that shoppers want to buy goods, and be able to get them home. We want to relax around town, not worrying if we’re going to get a ticket. People want to nip to shops and other facilities, without having to walk a mile and a half to get to their destination.
We want close, free parking, and without it, we’re spending our hard earned cash elsewhere.
Edited or not, I hope the letter will be published. I know our local councillors read the letters pages in The Advertiser, and I hope they get a feel for how local residents are being kept away. More and more car parks are being abandoned and built upon, more and more of our town is pedestrianised, forcing car drivers away; we can’t just nip to the butchers now, pull up close, grab our meat and drive off.
I’m sure the council would say that we could use public transport. Sure, but we’d not be able to buy much as we couldn’t get it home – I take my car, and I can fill my boot with shopping, take the bus, and we’re limited to a small carrier bag if we’re lucky. We’d also have to rely on a service that’s unreliable, expensive and uncomfortable, whilst we’re still paying tax and insurance etc on the car sat on our drive. Public transport also does not allow the “nipping” factor. We can nip to the local shopping mall, Meadowhall, then either grab a couple of bits and bobs, or decide to wander around, grab a bite to eat, spend more money, etc. We won’t be wondering if our car park ticket is about to run out, or if we’re going to miss the last bus. We can nip to all the local retail parks, with their big, free, open car parks, where we can load up the boot with the spoils of our shopping sprees. We can’t nip to our local town centre, so our money’s not spent there.
Unfortunately, whilst free parking in central Rotherham would cure some of the problems it faces, there would still be more to do. There are no street beggars in Meadowhall, no gangs of youths, loitering and smoking dope on the avenues. The “chuggers” are a very limited presence, and there are available free toilets throughout the centre. The only toilets left in Rotherham are in the bus station and you have to pay 20p to use them. Based on my last visit a couple of weeks ago, they absolutely stink, are filthy, and have broken locks on the cubicles. Not a great advert for our town.
So, Rotherham Borough Council, if you’re listening… Free parking won’t cure all the town centre’s ills, but it would be a good start. Maybe attracting people in can lead to other improvements, maybe town wardens clearing away the gangs of druggies, maybe opening some clean public toilets. Maybe once people start coming, the high street names will look again at a lively town centre, and wonder if it’s worth coming back. You’ll never know if you don’t try!