Back in March this year the Courier published our occasional ‘View from the Chamber’ article which extolled the virtues of Halifax as a great place to live and do business.
The Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce operates within a significant part of West Yorkshire, including the Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield local authority areas. We are committed to serving the Business Community and providing a voice for our members as well as for businesses generally throughout the region. Some tremendous strides continue to be made in making Halifax a better place, and there is no doubt that a very strong community spirit is much in evidence here – coming not just from residents but from businesses, local organisations, agencies, the Council, local MP’s and the Voluntary Sector, who all work hard, in conjunction with business organisations such as the Chamber to develop the town, encourage inward investment, and endeavour to enhance the economic prosperity of Halifax and our neighbouring towns and communities. In order to achieve the best for our town it is essential that it is a welcoming and hospitable place for visitors, new businesses and new residents. Major projects such as the renovation of the Piece Hall, the Orangebox centre for young people, and the Square Chapel arts centre expansion will enhance the attractions of the town, and existing attractions such as Eureka!, the Borough Market and the Halifax Minster all help to increase visitor footfall and economic prosperity in the Borough. But it is also of paramount importance that businesses should be able to thrive if we are to be able to make Halifax an even better place. Businesses provide employment and create wealth, and in many parts of our towns and outlying villages, local businesses sit at the very heart of our communities. But throughout Britain, there is considerable concern and uncertainty about the future for our town and city centres. Cost efficiencies and ease of service through online retailers and out-of-town shopping centres threaten conventional retailing, and continue to drive foot-traffic from our towns. So it is essential that we respond to changing times and uncertain economic conditions by laying down business-friendly conditions which will promote a vibrant retail sector in our town centres and outlying communities so that they can continue to provide our residents with vital sources of economic activity and employment. Central Government recognises that towns and cities must adapt to meet the radical changes in consumer behaviour which we have witnessed in recent years, and in March this year launched the “Future High Streets Forum” in an effort to help bring together businesses, councils, retailers and property experts in an attempt to rejuvenate the high street. All of which leads to the question of whether it is now time for a fundamental rethink on car parking charges? As a Chamber we have long argued poor parking facilities, excessive parking charges and strict penalties for non-compliance frequently present perverse obstacles to attracting additional visitor numbers to our towns. This is the very opposite of what we are seeking to achieve. Local Councils should not regard revenues from parking charges as an ever-escalating cash-cow, but on the contrary there is an argument that they should fundamentally re-examine true economic costs where the superficial revenues raised through parking charges can be greatly overshadowed by the damage which is being wrought upon local economies by strangling the life out of our town centres. It is often said that “the customer is always right” - and customers have made it very clear throughout the country that they place a very high value on being able to park free and shop at out-of-town supermarkets and shopping centres. And as competition increases, dynamic and enlightened retailers are redefining their business model to fully reflect modern shopping patterns, and some are now realising their business ambitions by running online web stores whilst simultaneously maintaining a physical presence on the high street. In the same way that the private sector has to redefine it’s offering to reflect changing conditions then so must public sector organisations react accordingly. There is a strong argument that before introducing any further charges for car parking all Councils should conduct a full economic risk-assessment. A relevant local example of the need for such an assessment is the latest Council proposal to start charging for parking in the car park at King Cross. As most Halifax residents will know, this is presently a busy and useful community shopping area comprising of small retail shops, pubs and food outlets. As we have seen elsewhere in Halifax, (particularly in recent times around Skircoat Green in the vicinity of Calderdale Royal Hospital) that where parking charges are introduced many motorists are not prepared to pay, but instead drive on to the nearest place where parking is free. In the case of King Cross, if the parking charges are introduced this could lead to congestion caused by additional competition for on-street free parking (as at present) which in turn could result in further parking restrictions and charges. The longer-term consequences of the parking charges could have a profound effect on the economic viability of businesses at King Cross, as well as the possible loss of a useful and valuable community amenity, the financial loss of Business Rates to the Council and falling local economic prosperity as jobs and livelyhoods are put at risk. Is it time for a rethink?
Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce