South-West ghost town threat

One of the most heart-breaking sights of the last few days of rioting has been seeing local shopkeepers burned out of their premises or confronted with thousands of pounds of damage to their businesses. Years of hard work have been destroyed in hours of mayhem. If life hasn’t already been tough enough for these traders then this is the final straw.

Fresh from being booed on the streets of Birmingham and with law and order uppermost in his thoughts, Nick Clegg visited Chippenham to express his support for hard-pressed shopkeepers. The deputy prime minister took time out to criticise a rise in council parking charges that threatens to turn the town centre into a ‘ghost town’.

‘I appreciate that this is a huge local concern,’ said Clegg. ‘I’m all for local councils having the power to do what they want, but the aim has got to be to keep the economic lifeblood of our towns and communities going, and it’s self-defeating to whack up charges of whatever kind in a way which then chases away business from the very communities you’re trying to serve, and that’s what councils have to get right.’

That the government may be waking up to the link between punitive parking and declining high streets was revealed in a recent statement by the Local Government minister. While local newspapers are reporting that a fifth of shops in Bristol are currently empty, with similar vacancy figures across the South-West, the Coalition has announced its intention to scrap anti-car targets for town centres. ‘Parking restrictions have hit small shops the hardest,’ said Eric Pickles, ‘creating “ghost town” high streets which can't compete with out-of-town supermarkets. We want to see more parking spaces to help small shops prosper in local high streets and assist mums struggling with their family shop.’

The Western Daily Press drew attention to this problem when it wrote about Wiltshire Council chiefs hiking parking charges in every market town. Their intention was to raise more cash to subsidise bus services, but ‘shoppers have stayed away in droves, with the numbers using council car parks plummeting, and total revenue is expected to drop by half a million pounds instead.’

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