The Liberal Democrat run council has justified the new regime by saying that park users were unable to find car parking there previously, because commuters were parking there all day for free. I have challenged the Liberal Democrats on several occasions to prove that this was the case, including in a letter published in the Bath Chronicle www.bathchronicle.co.uk/questions-asked-parking-park/story-19068411-detail/story.html
The Liberal Democrats chose to ignore these questions and have continued to blame commuters, without providing any evidence to support this assertion.
In the following weeks the effects of the charges and restrictions have started to bite. Fundamentally, the park is now regularly empty. Not just empty of cars, but also empty of people. No group of people is benefitting from the charges and restrictions.
Park users feel cheated. They have seen taxes used to create the new regime, which then charges them more money to use something they are already paying for. Not just a slap in the face, a barrage of punches. Most of the parking has a maximum two hour restriction. This is not enough for people who want to spend a few hours in the park, golfers, bowls and tennis players.
Local residents are angry. They have to pay for parking permits and there are not enough spaces to cover demand, so they had been using the park as overflow and now they can't. They are also finding that cars that were previously parking in the park have now been displaced and are parking in the adjoining streets outside their homes.
Local businesses are experiencing a significant tail off in their daytime business. In some cases, catastrophically so.
The Council is clearly not making the money that it had forecast it would make because people are choosing not to pay to park there. Make no mistake, the burden of any shortfall will land back with the taxpayer.
In short, absolutely nobody is benefitting, except for that vocal minority of people who are blindly opposed to private motorised transport, regardless of what people actually need, and regardless of the consequences.
So, we have to ask why the Council apparently did not foresee this before taking the steps they have taken. And this is where things get pretty murky.
Despite avoiding the question, it transpires that there was not just one research into people parking their cars there, there were two. And guess what, analysis of these shows pretty clearly that it was completely misleading to heap the blame on commuters. Unfortunately the truth appears to have been regarded as inconvenient and was apparently completely ignored in the zealous pursuit of political ideology.
The most recent research was commissioned under Liberal Democrat leadership in November 2011. This research shows that car parking in the park only reached capacity for two fleeting moments on a weekday – at 11.15am and 2.15pm. Vehicles parking in the park before 9.00am were almost 100 below the park capacity and the number of vehicles parked in the park fluctuated between when it first reached capacity at 11.15am and when it last reached capacity at 2.15pm as vehicles came and went. Most interestingly, the Liberal Democrat survey showed parking capacity falling away steeply after the peak use at 2.15pm and by 4.00pm was once again at approximately 100 vehicles below capacity. This simply doesn’t tally with the notion that the park was filled by commuters who stayed there all day for free.
By contrast the park was most heavily used on the Sunday, when it was over capacity between noon and 4.15pm when cars were able to park on single yellow lines.
A previous, more exhaustive survey, was commissioned by the Conservative Group in Council and took place from 16-22 July 2008, which included term-time weekdays, and included an automatic traffic count, a roadside interview survey of all drivers excluding park employees, and reply paid survey cards.
This survey showed that commuters accounted for only 40 per cent of vehicles using the park, fewer than the people visiting the park and the play area (44 per cent). Shoppers, people on personal business and tourists were the next largest group (14 per cent). Other people parking included residents, people having lunch in local eateries, golfers and bowls players.
The numbers of vehicles parked fluctuated throughout the day as people came and went with only 70 vehicles over the duration of the survey leaving without being able to find somewhere to park. An almost equal number of drivers used the park as a short cut.
Of the commuters the largest number were employed in the finance, estate agency and legal professions (50 individuals), followed by construction, utilities and transport (46 individuals), retail (35 individuals), local government (34 individuals), and health social and community work (25 individuals). Other groups included media and publishing (23), tourism, leisure and entertainment (12), education (8), IT and food (6 each).
In total 20 per cent of the commuters worked in the finance, estate agency and legal professions 14 per cent worked in retail and another 14 per cent worked for BANES council.
The duration of stay for vehicles parking showed that the vast majority (235) stayed for less than an hour. 145 didn’t stop at all, 137 stayed for between one and two, 75 for between two and four hours and only 129 stayed for more than eight hours. Again this disproves the theory about commuters.
20 per cent of people parking in the park were Bath residents.
This research shows very clearly why the park is now so lightly used. The park was not, as the people of Bath have been told, filled up with commuters all day long. Where are all the people we were told were desperate to park but couldn’t because it was filled up with commuters? They simply haven’t materialised. The park was used by a very broad range of people for many different things. All of these people have now been inconvenienced by the new regime and are choosing to stay away or go elsewhere.
Nobody is proposing a return to the previous free-for-all situation. The park should not be used by commuters. But the new system of charges and restrictions is failing the needs of everybody and should be reviewed. The solution could simply be to give the whole park a four hour limit, to deter commuters, but to make the first two hours free of charge, to encourage all other users, and to provide local residents access with their parking permits.
The growing anger of people at the measures that have been taken, financed by their taxes and falsely justified should be enough to make the Council realise that it has made a significant and costly error and immediately review how it arrived at the current situation and what steps it can take to make the park work for people, rather than drive them away.
Bath deserves better.