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Drivers steer clear of Leek town centre's car parks

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: April 09, 2014

By Leslie Jackson

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Campaigners claim tens of thousands of motorists are avoiding driving into Leek because of road works and increased car parking charges.

It comes as businesses in the town say they are continuing to suffer a fall in trade.

Figures show around 98,000 less cars used Leek's car parks in 2012/13, compared to 2008/9.

Despite the decline, the income received by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council in car parking fees rose, from £239,531 in 2008/9 to £269,740 in 2012/13, following an increase in the price of tickets.

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Leek South county councillor Charlotte Atkins put the reduction in visiting cars down to now completed works at the end of Derby Street, and ongoing improvements in the same road.

She said: "These figures prove the devastating impact of the roadworks on our town and the terrible toll suffered by our local traders as a result.

"Fewer cars came into Leek and that meant that our shops took a massive hit in takings."

Retired engineer Roger Cannon, who obtained the car parking figures under the Freedom of Information Act, said: "The figures have highlighted a steady decline in the number vehicles using the car parks in Leek since 2008/09, of 98,769 .

"Between 2008/09 to 2011/12 the calculations show the usage was between 368,510 and 344,193, but in 2012/13 this went down further to 269,741.

"It is surely another devastating blow to the shopkeepers of Leek as each car could have brought additional spending power to the town."

The figures show that in 2008/09 the amount received in car parking fees was £239,531.25.

In 2009/10 it was £229,346.17; in 2010/11, £230,066.74; and in 2011/12, £223,725.60. This was when the charges were 45p, 65, and 85p for one to three hours respectively.

However, during the period for 2012/13 the charges were increased to 60p, £1 and £1.40, and receipts were £269,740.89.

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Campaigners have taken these figures and divided the average parking charge, for up to three hours, to get the number of cars coming to Leek.

The figures have not taken into account season tickets which motorists can purchase for certain sites.

Meanwhile, traders say they have noticed less people in the town.

Jane Buttery, manager of the British Heart Foundation shop in Derby Street, said: "We have been several hundreds pounds a week down on takings and donations are also being hit."

Julie Ratcliffe, who owns Coffee at Julie's and the adjacent Stone Baked shop in Derby Street, pointed out the next phase of road works would be outside her outlets.

She said : "I am 20 per cent down from the last road works.

"Now this will be right outside my business and I am losing around £100 a day. It is devastating as I have had to send workers home early.

Town Crier newagents owner Alan Lyford said: "Business has not picked up since the roundabout work. The last 12 months have been tough. "There do not seem as many visitors coming into town."

In response to the figures, a spokesman for Staffordshire Moorlands District Council said: "Leek, like every other town in the country, was affected by the downturn in the economy, but much work continues to be done by the council and its partners to mitigate for this and ensure Leek remains a strong and viable town centre.

"Shop vacancy rates show that Leek significantly outperforms similar towns with rates falling to 7.9 per cent last month compared to 9.3 per cent last year. The national average for high street vacancies in December 2013 was 12.2 per cent.

"We have also seen an increase in parking ticket sales which are up by 24,000 over the last 12 months. This is a particularly welcome rise given the introduction of commuter and resident permits on Vicarage Road car park in May 2012, which now has 150 spaces for cars which would otherwise have paid and displayed. Relocating these vehicles has created additional capacity in the town centre.

"This, together with the massive investment in Leek College and regeneration projects attracting household names such as Premier Inn, Wetherspoon and Waitrose, is real evidence that Leek is bouncing back strongly.

"Traders and businesses can be assured that the council is committed to working with our partners to retain and develop Leek's position as a location of choice for residents, traders, shoppers, students and leisure visitors."

Simon Tagg, Staffordshire County Council's Cabinet Support Member for Transport and Connected County, said: "Leek is a fantastic market town and the improvements to the highways have been crucial in helping the town flourish and attract new investment, such as the Premier Inn.

"More free parking, the weather, rising ticket prices, family pockets can all affect the choice to pay for parking or not, and doesn't of course mean people aren't visiting and spending money there.

"Only this year Leek was voted runner up in a national search for the best town in the country and demonstrates that the vast majority of people agree that Leek is a great place to live, visit and do business."

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