Businesses share fears as Welsh councils put brakes on free parking

Gwennan Campbell reports.

Business owners have shared their fears of trade dropping as a number of Welsh councils look to put the brakes on free parking in a bid to save money.

More than 3,500 people have signed a petition against Cardiff Council's plans to scrap free parking in residential shopping areas, while free parking has already been scrapped in Wrexham's council-owned car parks.

Cardiff Council said the proposed removal of the gratuitous parking window - usually one or two hours - is one of the "difficult decisions" it has had to make as it grapples with the "most challenging" budget position it has ever faced.

One driver parked at a currently free car park in Whitchurch said the possible changes are "really disappointing because the two hours free parking is really useful just to do everything you need to do here in the village.

"Two hours is just enough to do what you need to do."

He added he would not return if he had to pay for parking.

Whitchurch is one of the areas where free parking could be scrapped.

Spiro Gropetis, the owner of local chip shop Fintans, said: "If we lose the parking in the village I am really worried that it will be the end of the village. If someone's coming in for lunch and they're spending £3 to £4 on lunch, if they've got to spend £3.50 to park that lunch may no longer be affordable for them."

He added: "I think my biggest worry as well is our competition. If people don't use the village, you've got the supermarkets. They have free parking up to three hours. Why is someone going to come into the village and pay for their parking when they can go to the supermarket and have it for free?"

Another local said: "I don't disagree with scrapping it, but I disagree with the amount that they're charging.

"I don't mind paying a reasonable amount for the time I spend here, but I certainly don't want to spend £3.50 for five minutes."

He said he understands the council need to make cuts, but said scrapping the free parking is "a step too far".

What areas will be affected in Cardiff?

Visitors to council-owned car parks and on-street pay and display zones near popular high streets - like those in Whitchurch, Llanishen, Rhiwbina, Canton, Llandaff and Cardiff Bay - could be be charged as soon as they park.

Unmanaged car parking spaces on the public highways will not be affected by these changes.

When could these changes come into effect?

Whether or not the change goes ahead is dependent on a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) - a legal consultation process - which takes between six and nine months to complete.

Therefore free parking will remain in place until at least October 2024.

Cardiff Council said if this does go ahead, visitors will have to start paying this winter.

The council said that free parking will remain in place until at least October 2024.

Why is free parking being scrapped?

Cardiff council said the reasons why free parking is being scrapped is down to a "challenging" budget and wanting to "encourage people to become less reliant on their private car".

They added, "any surplus income will be re-invested into highway and transport schemes, so we can continue to improve public transport, walking and cycling facilities across the city.

“We are investing significantly in cycling and walking routes, as well as improving the infrastructure for bus travel, so bus operators can provide a better and more efficient service for their customers.

“By investing in public transport and active travel, we will provide a credible alternative to travelling by private car, which in turn has significant benefits, giving residents and visitors better and healthier options to travel around the city.

"The aim has to be to reduce congestion, significantly improve the air that we all breathe, while making Cardiff a better place to live and visit."

Where else in Wales has this happened?

From the start of April, free parking was scrapped in Wrexham council-owned car parks.

After being introduced to support key workers and city centre businesses both during and after the coronavirus pandemic​, senior councillors voted in favour of axing free parking in the city centre in April 2024 due to the local authority facing a worsening financial landscape.

Harry owns a cafe in Wrexham city centre. He said they used to be very busy after 11 - which is when the free parking was allotted - and whilst they are still busy, he said there has been a "dip".

"Definitely initially we've seen it's a lot quieter", he explained.

"Usually at 11am when it was free there was an instant boom in customers and people coming into town. I didn't think it would be so instant but yeah, it's definitely stopped being as busy straight away."

Harry owns a cafe in Wrexham city centre and said he has noticed a "quieter period" as a result of the changes.

He said that he's heard a lot of people are "frustrated" with the change.

"There's people who come in everyday, especially the retired, older generation. They come in everyday to get out and about - I suppose it's an extra cost for them so they probably stay at home a few more days a week."

He said the city has been quieter since the introduction of parking payments, "definitely between the periods in the afternoon, it's more quieter than it wasn't, I have seen that initially.

"Because it's only been two weeks, I didn't expect to see it [less busy] so suddenly so it has impacted it."

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