Comment by David Goddin, President

Reaction to Waverley Borough Council’s proposal to increase some short-term parking charges is increasing with the debate moving into Haslemere Town Hall and the formation of local working party to address the issue.

As previously reported, Waverley wants to target short-term parking in its busiest car parks – including High Street and Chestnut Avenue in Haslemere – in an attempt to balance its books.

The increase in itself is small – 10p or 20p – making it perhaps more of an irritation than a major issue for motorists.

Of greater concern is the danger that it could increase perceptions that parking in our town is not good value for money.

This is the worry that will underpin any contribution I make when the Haslemere Parking Charges Working Party meets on Friday.

As President, I want the Chamber to foster economic growth in the Haslemere area – for the direct benefit of members and also to encourage non-member businesses to join.

That growth depends on two key elements:

  • Local people spending more or products and services in the area
  • More people from outside the area spending money locally.

That growth will not materialise if the town is perceived to be expensive. This is not a new concern: my predecessors have been saying the same thing for years.

Because of Haslemere’s geographical situation at the meeting point of three counties, Waverley’s plan relates to political Haslemere. However, the impact will be felt throughout the Chamber’s area – economic Haslemere – covering parts of all three counties within a five-mile radius of Haslemere Town Hall.

Retail is the visible part of the economy and if the High Street, Wey Hill and all the satellite retail points are thriving, there’s good reason to expect that all the local commercial, professional and technical services and a host of other business ventures will also prosper.

A thriving economy also means fewer retail vacancies and underpins a steady flow of income from business rates.

Increasing parking charges – again – won’t solve the real problems. It’s rather like trying to destroy an iceberg with a single bag of salt … and then putting the salt on the wrong iceberg.

There are actually two ‘icebergs’:

  • Waverley’s unenviable task of providing services in the face of severe budgetary constraints
  • Haslemere’s challenge of preserving a vibrant commercial hub that attracts people to do business in all its forms.

If Waverley was a business it would probably be looking to trim its costs wherever possible. It would not be increasing prices. However, it does seem to think that demand for parking exceeds supply, therefore prices should rise.

So why is parking such a problem generally? I suspect four key reasons:

  • Increased vehicle ownership
  • Rail commuter traffic
  • Public transport less frequent
  • Employees come by car.

In my view, the current Waverley proposal is ill-advised and economically dangerous. It is condemned in similar terms by my counterparts in the other three Waverley chambers: Godalming, Farnham and Cranleigh.

The only merit that I can see is that it should stimulate fresh debate – and, I hope, action ­– on a long-term solution for our parking problems.

While we need parking spaces for commuters and local workers, we also need plenty of space for short term parking to attract shoppers, coffee-drinkers and customers of Post Office and banks. We desperately need more parking space.

We have a picturesque town, full of charm and character – but never designed for traffic. We need a bold approach to preserve the town and ensure it is an economic success.