Mendip Madness?

Despite a large presence from Frome at Monday’s Mendip District Council meeting, only a token gesture was offered to Frome and Shepton Mallet over proposed parking charges.

Arriving mob handed with a 6,000 signature petition, an assortment of town councillors, and representatives from the chamber of commerce and the Cheese and Grain, Frome was determined to make an impact. It is after all the largest down in the District.

The impact of such a powerful representation was not as big as it might have deserved. Mendip’s Cabinet did make a concession to The Frome Independent and Shepton Mallet Sunday markets.  On the Sundays when those events are held, car parking charges will not be imposed.  But on all other Sundays, there will be a new flat rate charge of £2 for parking in Mendip’s car parks.  The other proposals that will see general car park charges and season ticket/ permit charges rise were all approved by Cabinet.

Cllr Nigel Taylor, Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhood Services and Community Health, clearly believes the District know what they are doing “We know that parking charges are an emotive subject and most people will use one or more of the Mendip car parks across the district. It is important that we ensure we have a consistent charging policy across the district so that all car parks are maximized to support the vitality of the town centres.”

Unfortunately this is not about something that is “emotive” this is about a commercial reality. It is depressing to see such a staggering lack of commercial awareness especially when the future of two of the District’s largest towns are at stake. The lack of understanding is profound. Somerset market towns compete with each other for visitors and shoppers. And some towns, Langport and Somerton for instance offer substantial free car parks in their town centres all through the week. Yes it is true that District Councils have had their funding cut by central government but it is barely a couple of weeks since Mendip proudly proclaimed “All of the districts have sound financial forward plans and ambitious plans for the delivery of high quality services.” If they are on as sound a financial footing as they claim, then this decision on car parking, which will not add significant sums to a District Council that spends £15.75m a year (according to their 2016/17 accounts), but will do substantial damage to the economy of their two biggest towns, simply does not add up.

District Councillors and officers who haven’t quite grasped the significance of free parking, or the state of trade on our High Streets, could do worse than take a walk down the high street in Shepton Mallet and see what a devastating impact the combination of a Tesco superstore and free parking for customers only can do to a town centre. It has sucked the soul and vibrancy out of the town. A market and free parking would at least do something to compensate.

Meanwhile Frome Town Council’s Leader, Toby Eliot, commented “It’s clear that the strength of feeling had some impact and we won some concessions. I don’t believe there would have been any movement from Mendip had there not been such a strong campaign from Frome.  But we are still concerned about the impact of Mendip’s decision to charge on other Sundays.”

Frome Town Council are collating a response to Mendip District Council about this decision.  If you would like to register a response please ring 01373 465757 or email parking@frometowncouncil.gov.uk