FREE parking could be curtailed or even ended in seven Carmarthenshire towns because the council said it’s too expensive to subsidise.
Cabinet members will be asked to consider five options for council-owned car parks – one of which is a complete removal of free parking offers – after the matter is debated by a council scrutiny committee on July 21.
No decisions have been taken as yet, but a report before the scrutiny group said the cost of subsidising parking at Llanelli, Carmarthen, Ammanford, Llandeilo, Llandovery, St Clears and Newcastle Emlyn meant less money was being spent on road schemes and on car park maintenance.
The report said this was being mitigated by a rise in revenue from camera enforcement but that the current arrangements were essentially unsustainable.
It cited a report from motoring group RAC which said motorists on average spent 1.2% of their running costs on parking, and that parking concerns were significantly below fuel costs and the state of roads in drivers’ pecking order of priorities.
The scrutiny report said: “Free parking is often sighted by town centre traders as the panacea for recovery. Previous studies and pilot projects have shown that it is the extent of the overall town offer that attracts visitors to town and parking charges that are set at a reasonable level have little bearing on a decision to visit.”
There are currently free parking periods in the seven towns – mainly on Mondays to Wednesdays – plus five free days outside of the peak Christmas trading period to support town centre events.
The report said parking charges had risen by 5% but that the parking budget shortfall would still be around £730,000 this financial year. It added that parking revenue had held up better in smaller rural towns compared to Llanelli, Carmarthen and Ammanford.
The five options to be debated include retaining the five free days and introducing free one-hour parking – rather the existing longer period – with another to allow towns with a formal business improvement district to introduce and fund a free parking offer.
Nicky Davies, the owner of Y Cwtch Coffi, Newcastle Emlyn, said higher parking costs would probably affect town centre workers more than shoppers. “For people having to work, it mounts up,” she said.
Michael O’Shea, the owner of gift shop Cegin Y Porthmyn, Llandovery, said councils should support town centres by providing free car parks, even if it meant subsidising them. “Councils do rely on shops being open and being there to pay rates,” he said.
Ruth Calthorpe, the owner of Black Rose Gift and Habberdashery, Ammanford, said it was hard to gauge how higher parking costs might impact footfall.
“It might affect it to start with, but when everybody got used to it they might just get on with it,” she said.