Saturday, 21 April 2012

Guest Blog - Open Letter to the Leader of Barnet Council from the local traders from Helen Michael

Helen Michael with Barnet Traders
Open Letter to Councillor Richard Cornelius, Leader of Barnet Council from Helen Michael, on behalf of the Barnet Traders.

Dear Councillor Cornelius 
                                                                                                                          20th April 2012
Re Parking Issue

Further to our meeting and subsequent business forum meeting last week, I have been approached by a large majority of traders from Barnet and North Finchley town centers and residents with some very strong views which I thought I should convey to you.

These cover most of what we discussed, as follows;
Aldi and Sainsbury’s offer 1 hour free parking and the cost is £1.00 per hour thereafter. The pay and display meters are still being used and work perfectly well. These car parks are oversubscribed yet the Council’s 5 car parks in North Finchley are in the main empty for most of the day. The Spires car park is virtually full, yet the Council car park in Barnet Town Centre is empty. Charges in the Spires are £1.00 per hour. The car parks are full in North Finchley on Sundays when they are free (and no, this is not an invitation for the Council to start charging on Sunday)

The High Streets’ have empty bays for large parts of the day which used to be full.  The turnover of cars was 7-8 times per day on average, before the Councils parking regime was introduced. If someone wants to pull over for a newspaper or a pint of milk, even a prescription from a chemist, they incur a penalty charge notice as the traffic wardens are waiting in the wings to pounce on anyone who is naive  enough to want to pull over for 2 or 3 minutes and pick something up.  Your current system does not allow for this. There are only two pay points in each of the town centers, but no one knows where they are, and of course there is the issue of leaving ones vehicle unattended in order to get the voucher.

I often witness traffic Wardens hiding in shop doorways ready to pounce invariably having already written the ticket, ready to be placed on the windscreen of the offending vehicle immediately the driver turns his back.

People tend not to come back to the high road if they have a bad experience or find it less then straight forward to park.
The Councils argument that the charges cannot be reduced as this will in turn reduce the Councils revenue does not stack up. These car parks are empty for most of the day producing very little revenue.  There is not the turnover on the bays there once was.

The on street parking is not user friendly to anyone, as we discussed. We have a large aging population.  40% of our elderly population doesn’t have a mobile phone and even if they did most are audio challenged. The instructions are long winded and not easy to follow.  One lady approached me to tell me that she has a wheelchair and cannot see the signs even if she wanted to pay by phone to park.

There is also of course the security aspect.  Standing in the street with a credit card and mobile phone, whatever age you are, is hardly to be encouraged never mind if you are elderly, a mother with her children or female.  People often distracted by the instructions and the request for information are a prime target for criminals, which I am sure will increase as the area is used less and becomes more run down.You already know that the incidence of mobile phone theft in the area has increased dramatically.

In these difficult times with the worse trading conditions on the high street in living memory, where is the logic in increasing parking charges to an eye watering level for shoppers, who can park for free in the abundance of car parks supplied by Tesco, Brent Cross and the like, from a council who maintains it wishes to support the High Street and small local businesses.

As a business man I am sure you are aware that the cost of doing business is increasing dramatically, for most retailers big and small turn-over is going down.  Speaking from a personal point of view I know the cost of my products have increased by on average 40% a cost that I cannot pass onto my customers. Turn-over has also gone down which means I am absorbing these increases.  Of course business rates have also gone up.

You will also recall that I advised you of the number of businesses closed in Barnet and North Finchley since your parking regime was introduced.  Not only has this impacted on employment in the area those traders still open for business are reducing their staffing levels, again, having a negative impact on employment in the area.    You were kind enough to tell me that the council were also cutting back on staff but alternative jobs were being found  We are not so fortunate in the private sector.

I also advised you that shops were not being re-let once empty, a point reiterated by Simon Gerrard of Martin Gerrard Estate Agents, who attended the meeting last week and informed the panel that the feedback from landlords confirmed this.

You will recall at our meeting I advised you the bay along the High Road, outside WH Smith has two location numbers and often drivers get caught out not understanding which is the correct bay number, yet there is no proper signage nor indeed any indication that within a space of a few inches there is a difference.  I note no action has been taken to rectify this, two weeks on, yet when the signage was vandalized recently it was replaced immediately.  Call me cynical but this suggests to there is a lack of will to correct the wrongs.

At the meeting last week we were advised of the route of the Olympic torch and that the traders were expected/invited to come on board in order to make the borough look good.  Whilst most of the traders are happy to do this there is the general view that unless there is a positive outcome to the parking issues they will be using the Olympic procession as a platform to highlight their plight.

Local people are going to be invited to line the streets and support the event, which we all think is great, however, I, and the other traders were amazed to be told that the parking restrictions will remain in force throughout, on this day and in fact many traders believe that this will be open season for the traffic wardens to be out in force.  I refer to party in the park in Mill Hill where parking tickets were issued on a Sunday whilst a community event was taking place!

Most Traders and residents I have spoken to feel that because we agreed to take action after the Mayoral elections you are effectively palming me off and have very little faith that you will actually take significant action on the parking issue. 

I have recently visited and carried out research in Whetstone and Finchley Central, both a mile from North Finchley.  There are very few parking restrictions in Whetstone and unless one chooses to park on the main road, the parking restrictions on the side roads around Finchley Central are only an hour a day.  Why is this?  I am sure that you have noticed these areas have regenerated recently whilst North Finchley and Barnet are in serious decline.

I would therefore suggest the following

1.        Half an hour free parking

2.       £1 per hour thereafter

3.       Scratchcards to be made available to buy in bulk to the shop keepers at a discounted rate so they can be sold on to shoppers

4.       An advertising campaign to advise locals that our Council is listening and inviting people back to the High Street

5.       An amnesty for at least part of the day when the Olympic torch is carried through the borough

I would like your comments on the Federation of Small Business parking policy and what you intend to do to bring Barnet in line with these recommendations. You talked about some changes and for all concerned let’s make these significant.

I am happy to meet with you and discuss these issues at any time, please feel free to call me.

Kind regards.

Yours sincerely

Helen Michael
For and on behalf of the Traders of The London Borough Of Barnet  
Helen Michael has sent this letter on behalf of Barnet Traders. The Barnet Eye is always pleased to publish guest blogs and other community related information. Send via the email link at the top of the right hand column 

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