THE future of Lymington high street is under threat from plans to bring in parking charges, businesses have warned.
Hampshire County Council is intending to install ticket machines along the main shopping route through the town centre by April next year.
Scores of spaces on both sides of High Street are currently free for one hour. The proposed new system would offer free parking for 30 minutes with charges after that for up to two hours.
The idea has sparked fears of reduced footfall from people put off by the extra costs, as well as anger that Lymington is the only town in the New Forest facing the prospect of new fees.
One objector is Neil Welker, the fifth generation of his family to run Elliotts clothes shop in High Street and a member of Lymington’s chamber of commerce.
He warned that the combination of extra costs and longer stays would simultaneously put off shoppers and slow the turnaround of visitors – reducing vital footfall for stores.
And he hit out at HCC for not also proposing on-street parking charges in New Milton, Ringwood or Totton, claiming Lymington was effectively being “punished” for its success in keeping the town centre busy.
‘Footfall is absolutely everything’
He said: “Introducing a measure that can only have a negative effect is just not the right thing to do. I am worried it will put people off coming into Lymington.
“At the moment people do not have to pay and in the future they will – it’s as simple as that. In Lymington high street the maximum stay period is one hour for free, and because of that we get churn. Charges will put off a lot of local people who pop in rather than visitors.”
He added: “Footfall is absolutely everything for a high street at the moment.”
The changes are set to come in April 2020 when a roads agreement lapses between NFDC and HCC, which are both Conservative-controlled.
As reported in the A&T, NFDC refused new terms from HCC which wanted a new deal to ensure full costs were met, such as enforcement officers and administration, as it seeks to cut spending by £80m by 2021.
NFDC declined amid uncertainty over the ultimate bill – leaving HCC in full control of on-street parking arrangements next year.
Lymington county councillor Michael White promised to fight the charges, warning they would effectively transform the high street into a short-stay car park and cause a “disastrous” reduction in visitors.
‘I fear for the future of the street’
Cllr White, a Conservative, said: “If you look at the number of closures recently and opening of new charity shops, it means that the town’s under pressure. The whole retail sector is under pressure.
“This goes right to the top – the national election has not helped, Brexit has not helped. But it’s also the onward push of online shopping.
“It’s everything coming together at the same time and this is just not going to help. In fact, it’s going to be very unhelpful. I fear for the future of the street.”
Traders and residents have long complained about parking pressures in the Lymington and Pennington area which has 11 public car parks run by New Forest District Council.
Donald Mackenzie, spokesperson for civic group the Lymington Society, added his voice to the calls for HCC to have a re-think.
He said: “We fully agree with the chamber of commerce that this scheme to impose parking charges on the High Street could tip the balance and do great harm to the retail climate in the town.
“From a conservation point of view we also object to further street furniture in terms of many parking charge machines filling up the pavements of the Georgian High Street.
“We very much hope that Hampshire County Council will reconsider these proposals which are extremely unfair and which could really harm retailers in the town.”
Hampshire County Council did not send a response to an A&T request for comment.