Ipswich: Parking review could boost town, experts claim

Would cheaper parking, or free spaces, boost the town centre?

Would cheaper parking, or free spaces, boost the town centre?

A root and branch review of car parking in Ipswich and Suffolk is needed to help businesses and high streets thrive, experts claim.

Businesses and local authorities that traditionally have been at loggerheads over parking tariffs, have pledged to work together to make sure parking policy is not adversely impacting East Anglia’s town centres.

Pioneering projects are taking place in Tendring, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath, with the former now in its second year of an initiative that sees taxpayers handed free parking permits for all but two of the district’s car parks.

Mike King, senior consultant at Action for Market Towns (AMT), carries out benchmark surveys of market towns to help identify issues requiring action.

According to Mr King, car parking remains one of the top three issues in every town he visits nationwide, the others being rates and property costs.

“There needs to be some national guidelines, and then, from that, a series of solutions that fit a particular type of town.”

Although there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution, he said there are measures, such as pay-on-exit, that councils should be looking at.

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Mr King added: “People often say ‘We would have stayed longer in the town centre but we only had two hours on the car’. If you’re new to a town centre, two hours is not going to give you an opportunity to get into the town centre, walk round the shops and have something to eat. You’ll feel rushed. If you’ve got pay-on-exit, you don’t have that. Personally, I think it works.”

Ipswich Borough Council has recently slashed the prices of its town centre car parks to £1 an hour – and free after 8pm. The council’s transport portfolio-holder Philip Smart said: “Since we took this action we have seen a big jump is usage, so we know it is working.”

There are 5,015 parking spaces in Ipswich town centre, 33% of which are operated by Ipswich Borough Council, with the remainder run by private operators.

Mr Smart said while “residents vouchers” might work well in market towns, Ipswich, as a regional centre, is in a different position.

He continued: “Colchester, Tendring and Forest Heath are all examples of councils whose administrative areas extend well beyond the town boundaries.

“In Ipswich we try to attract people from Hadleigh, Woodbridge and Stowmarket, all of which are ‘market towns’ in areas covered by other authorities and are not Ipswich residents. We are working with partners such as Ipswich Central on some great parking deals but would like other car park operators to follow our cheap-parking lead.

“It is a myth that Ipswich is expensive – £1 an hour is cheaper than many car parks in Norwich, Cambridge and Colchester.”

Yesterday the Ipswich Star launched a survey to find out what businesses think should be done to improve the town. This forms part of the I Love Ipswich campaign.