Support for the campaign far exceeded expectations: over a five-week period 1,908 signatures were collected from the 45 shops and outlets that agreed to take the petition forms.
Together with the 130 people who signed up at the Barnet Christmas Fair in December, and the 361 who have backed the petition on-line, there have now been nearly 2,500 expressions of support – and we are still counting.
The Society says the response to the petition represents an urgent plea from traders and their customers that the council should think again about its outright refusal to extend the extremely limited parking concessions that are currently available.
In reply to our survey, retailers indicated that if the council agreed to an hour’s free parking along the entire length of the High Street, and in all three of the council-owned car parks, it could increase trade by an average of 25 per cent.
When asked about footfall, retailers estimated that their businesses could attract an average of eight extra customers each day.
Several shops have each collected well over 100 signatures and the Society believes the strength of local anger is the clearest possible rebuttal of Councillor Dean Cohen for refusing to accept that the council’s expensive and inordinately complicated parking charges have been partly responsible for driving customers away from High Barnet’s shopping centre.
Councillor Cohen, the cabinet member responsible for car parking, told the Barnet Times (15.1.2015) that charges had not caused the decline of high street shopping.
He said: “We need to bust the myth that the health of the high street is all about parking. What we all really need to focus on is how we can help the high street adjust and innovate to meet the demands of the 21st-century consumer.”
The Society’s next move is to seek a meeting with High Barnet’s three councillors, David Longstaff, Wendy Prentice and Bridget Perry, and the Chipping Barnet MP Mrs Theresa Villiers.
Councillor Longstaff has already promised to put forward to the council the Society’s demand for an hour’s free parking if a detailed case can be prepared.
Our aim would be to seek Councillor Longstaff’s support in asking for a meeting with Councillor Cohen and other members of the council’s environment committee.
At the start of the new year the Barnet Times followed the Society’s lead and joined the campaign to persuade the council to rethink its approach; the newspaper has launched its own online petition in support of 30 minutes of free parking in high streets throughout the London Borough of Barnet.
Since the launch of the Society’s petition last November, and the distribution of forms for signatures, there has been a groundswell of support from shops and other traders who believe
High Barnet is being penalised because it cannot offer the free parking available in other nearby shopping centres.
Age UK is one of the organisations criticising local authorities such as Barnet Council that have imposed cashless parking charges.
It says pay-by-phone and credit card charging systems present huge difficulties for elderly and disabled people, who are effectively being excluded from their own town centres if they have to use a car.
Barnet Council officers who were planning an improvement plan for the High Street in High Barnet have all recently departed from their posts leaving us with precisely nothing.
In a statement thanking retailers for their assistance with the petition, the Society said it had been impressed by the determination of High Street traders to try to succeed, despite the hit their businesses took when the council removed parking meters that took cash and introduced a phone and credit card charging system.
“Some shops estimate they lost 20 to 25 per cent of their trade once parking by phone was imposed and it has been heartening to see how they have been encouraged by the Barnet Society’s petition.
They hope that the strength of support shown by their customers will have an impact on Barnet Council and the Chipping Barnet MP Mrs Theresa Villiers.
“Almost every trader has a horror story about losing trade from customers who cannot master parking by phone or who are not prepared to put their credit card into a parking meter in the High Street.
“Others say the main drawback of the complicated charging system is that it deters shoppers who want to pop in to pick up an item or make a simple purchase.
Apart from the amount they are required to pay, they are not prepared to go through the rigmarole of paying by phone and are frightened they will get a parking ticket if they stop for a few minutes.
“The Society accepts that innovative solutions are needed to assist town centres but it hopes that the widespread support for the petition, and our analysis of shopkeepers’ estimates for the impact on trade, will bust Councillor Cohen’s myth that parking charges are not having an impact on our High Street.”
Gail Laser, vice chair of the Society and a leading member of Love Barnet, criticised Councillor Cohen’s failure to provide ideas to back up his statement that high streets needed to adjust to changes in shopping patterns.
“Indeed Barnet Council officers who were planning an improvement plan for the High Street in High Barnet have we understand all recently departed from their posts and this currently leaves us with precisely nothing.”
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