The big parking issue

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Audlem car park sign
No Parking

Monday night's December meeting of Audlem Parish Council saw a large number of Audlem's traders expressing their concern about the damage they said traffic wardens were doing to Audlem's rapidly growing retail trade.

Shopkeepers described how visitors had told them that would not return as they were hit with fines and were finding parking difficult as the public car park and on-street parking is now so often full.

There were complaints that the recent marking out of the car park by Cheshire East had reduced the number of spaces rather than increasing them, as the Parish Council's original lay-out scheme would have done.

There was also reduced parking in Shropshire Street and all village centre on-street parking was now restricted to one hour which did not give shoppers sufficient time and often led to parking fines as traffic warden activity seems to have increased.

Unloading

Traders also said they were being hit by fines as they tried to unload to stock their shops. One shopkeeper had been fined four times and was now budgeting for this new expenditure. As traders are meant to be allowed a reasonable time to unload, except where special restrictions apply, appeals have been submitted to Cheshire East but without success.

There was a complaint that one traffic warden had taken a photograph to make a vehicle look irresponsibly parked when in fact it was safely parked and was not causing any obstruction during unloading.

Other comments indicated that the wardens seemed to be picking on trivial issues like a car parked in a bay but just touching a yellow line.

Parish councillors were generally very sympathetic and agreed that parking was a real problem. They pointed out that their original herringbone design for parking bays on the car park had been overruled by Cheshire East and that had contributed to the problem

As for parking offences on the car park, if the village took over the car park, as some councillors are exploring at present, they could then decide whether wardens could be used or not on the public car park.

Debate

Whether to take on the car park could be an interesting debate, however, as one councillor argued this would be triple taxation with residents paying through Council tax, the Parish Precept and in triplicate if an honesty box was installed to help defray costs, as has been used in the public toilets since the parish council took on responsibility for that facility.

The same councillor also suggested that moving from a one hour parking restriction on the streets to two hours might make the situation worse with fewer spaces available at any one time.

It appears that Cheshire East is willing to devolve car parks and this might even be achieved next financial year if the parish council decided to proceed with that option. A meeting is to be held with Cheshire East shortly.

Another councillor said the lines were not visible in many places making parking legally more challenging and they should be repainted. It appears that 'leaves on the road' at this time of year mean line painting is avoided during winter.

Cheshire East's response

Cheshire East Council were asked by AudlemOnline yesterday if they wished to comment and responded by referring to Audlem Parish Council's minutes in November, which said: "Cllr G Seddon reported that the issue of traffic backing up around the Co-op store appears to be exacerbated by cars parking on the double yellow lines between The Co-op and the Fire Station entrance, as well as around the entrance to Kingbur Place and in front of the charity shop.

"Resolved: to write to CEC asking for the street markings within the whole village but especially on Shropshire Street and also for traffic wardens to visit at peak times to discourage this practice."

Indeed, the impression was that Cheshire East felt "Damned if you do and damned if you don't." And it has to be said that the first Chatbox comments after our teaser story yesterday supported the traffic wardens' actions.

AudlemOnline says:

Only days ago Cheshire East was claiming in a news story on AudlemOnline about how well tourism is growing in Cheshire East and how important it is to the borough's economy.

Audlem and its rapidly growing number of shops and cafes depend significantly on visitors and it's strange, indeed bemusing, if Cheshire East employees, the traffic wardens, or parking enforcement officers as they now call themselves, seem to be damaging that success and are discouraging visitors.

While no-one can complain if a parking enforcement officer lands them with a ticket when parked on a double yellow line — except of course if it's a trader unloading responsibly — too many places in Britain, notably large cities, have seen incentivised wardens slapping tickets galore on vehicles at the slightest excuse, primarily it appears to raise councils' revenues.

Hopefully, that isn't the case in Cheshire East although the reports on Monday night by traders will raise alarm bells. If there has been an increase in fines, and if any of them are petty offences, hopefully residents and visitors complaining, and lots of adverse publicity, if appropriate, will make Cheshire East think again.

Similarly, if you feel you have been fined unreasonably, take it up with your Borough Councillor and parish councillors and, if you have a strong case, argue your case with Cheshire East by appealing and, if necessary in the courts.