The Borough of Guildford is a wonderful place to live, a vibrant town centre surrounded by many beautiful villages and countryside. Both the geography and the historic access routes have focussed the main hub of businesses and amenities to the centre of the town. With 11 Banks, 10+ dentists, 2 large pharmacies, a twice-weekly street market, a post office and numerous essentials shops it provides many thousands of residents crucial amenities.
Unfortunately, Guildford is damned with the issues of many large towns – Traffic. Both traffic congestion and pollution in the town centre is a consistent problem and a difficult balancing act for any Borough to manage. On one hand, we have a high street that is crying out for visitors from outside the Borough, and on the other hand, we have the Climate Emergency declared by the council in 2019. A key point of the climate emergency declaration was to “reduce traffic congestion including parking scheme, low emission zones and workplace charging” which neatly aligns with the strategic priorities set out in the latest GBC “Parking Business Plan” to “encourage the use of more sustainable transport modes including park and ride” and “encourage drivers to park and return directly along main routes using a “drive to, not through” approach”.
Imagine the surprise then, when at the end of 2020 GBC decided to transform over 50% of off-street parking into long stay car parks with a minimum tariff of 3hrs. Granted, they have reduced the hourly rate, but when you are forced to pay a minimum charge of £3 for 3hr, that is little consolation. Dubbed ‘Shopper’ car parks because, of course, no one staying less than 3hrs does any shopping these new tariffs has been benchmarked against other local shopping borough because they are aimed squarely at out of town shoppers. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact, it is great for our high street to bring as many people into the town as possible. However, what they have done, seemingly without realising, is render the out of town park and ride useless. If you were a family travelling to Guildford to shop, would you park at the cheapest park and ride and pay £3.40 (2 x £1.70 – Merrow P&R) to sit on a bus for 15 mins, or would you drive right into the centre, pay £3 for 3hours parking and be within minutes of the shops? The answer is obvious, so obvious in fact that I find it unbelievable that this parking charge made it any further than a brainstorming session let alone approved by the Council Executive.
And the losers in all of this? Us, the residents. We have lost 2484 of the most prime town centre parking spaces which allow us to “drive to, not through” when parking for our crucial town centre amenities. We should apparently be grateful that we have been granted 18% or the remaining spaces (the other 30% are contract parking only) for our short term shopping trips and we are, of course, left to pay a much higher hourly rate than the ‘Shoppers’ – £1.50/hr at the last check. Clearly the out of town shoppers are worth more to GBC than the rate paying residents – hardly what you would expect from the Councils leading “Residents for Guildford and Villages” political party. We also get thousands more out of town shoppers driving off the A3, along the A25 and straight into our already gridlocked one-way system bringing more congestion and more pollution. To top it off, we have lost all the Electric Vehicle (EV) charging points, these are all located in the new ‘Shopper’ car parks, they are too new and shiny for us.
It’s very easy to complain and so I want to offer a blueprint for GBC to consider.
- Park and Ride should be the biggest priority for any long stay car parking. It should be promoted, subsidised and made the default. We need to bring the bulk volume of cars out of the town centre
- Town centre parking should be designed for short stay use and use the fees to drive this. It should be more expensive to park for 3hrs in town than 3hrs in the Park and Ride, and the difference needs to be enough to make the P&R attractive. Town centre parking should be for accessing the essentials that residents need.
- The “Drive to, not through” policy needs to be central in all planning. Surface car parks in the town centre providing a handful of spaces should be questioned. The vehicles using them are clearly passing the larger edge of town car parks before arriving there – they are causing town centre congestion and pollution.
- If, along with all the above, access routes into the town centre are improved then there should be a target to reduce the number of town centre parking spaces over a 10 year period. This is the way to tackle local congestion and pollution.
To kick start this review I have started a petition (linked below) on the GBC website, the link is below. The first stage is to remove the 3hr minimum charge, from there a wider discussion can take place. If you agree with some or any of the above then please sign it. We deserve better, more open and more data-based decision making.
- GBC: Hillbers