Last week I attended a public meeting organised by my local chamber of commerce and business forum. The subject matter related to a proposal by our local county council, a remote body that is ironically not even situated in the county itself, to introduce high street parking charges. It is a typical bureaucrat situation. A problem that no-one locally knew existed being resolved by a solution that nobody locally wants.
Like many local high streets our high street is battling the larger town centre shopping centres and supermarkets. It has a core of long established businesses but it has also had its recent casualties. It has suffered from the “closure of Woolworths” effect although that unit, which was empty for a couple of years, now houses a Sainsbury Local.
However its value lies in the fact that it is convenient, has sufficient retail businesses to attract sustainable local trade, and can either be accessed by a leisurely walk or through up to two hours of free parking for those needing to use their car. More importantly it survives and thrives best it can in a world that is not kind to local high streets.
The proposed solution poses a threat to this. Even if the cost of parking ends up being marginal, the inconvenience of paying and displaying when all you want to is pop in for a quick shop it is a big disincentive, and one that may lead many to stop shopping locally and go to the aforementioned shopping centres.
Clearly the local traders are up in arms. In spite of Sainsbury finally moving in, there are still a number of local units that remain empty and the retail climate in general is challenging. Local residents are also unhappy, not least because one of the side effects of charging is likely to be increased congestion in residential areas around the high street.
Hence the public meeting. Now as many politicians and bureaucrats will tell you, the problem with public meetings is that the public tend to turn up. They are ill informed. They don’t understand the issues. They can’t see the bigger picture. The money to close the deficit has to come from somewhere. In short, leave it to us professionals, we know best. It would help of course if the local council were to share the information that their proposal is based on but we are told that they will not release it until the official consultation period which starts in a month or so.
As a student I was told that government and politics is all about the art of the possible. Some local politicians are already looking at a compromise solution that might allow 30 minutes of free parking. However, as we know, entrepreneurial business is often about the art of the impossible. Making things happen against the odds. Doing what people say can’t be done. The scene is set for an interesting clash of cultures.
Letters and petitions are being prepared as I write. However public opinion rarely counts for much when decisions of this nature are made. We are going to have to work together with all the other affected areas in the county and demolish the council’s case using their own information. Mission impossible? Maybe, but that is what thousands of small businesses in Enterprise Britain cope with every day. Bring it on…..