Julian Knight's Westminster Diary, 07/02/19

Solihull Mail.

One of the things which makes Solihull distinctive are the independent shops on our high streets – and I have always tried to do my bit to support them.

From taking part in ‘Solihull Independents Day’ to running my very own ‘Best Local Shop’ contest, I have greatly enjoyed helping constituents discover the huge range of goods and services our town has to offer.

So the current campaign by Shirley residents to save free parking in their town centre naturally has my full support – and I have written to the Council to say so.

It’s a simple fact that proper high-street shopping takes time. It’s only by having the time and space to browse that customers have the opportunity to wander into that shop they’ve been driving past for so long, or stumble across that one must-have thing that wasn’t in the big window displays.

Yet if the proposals apparently being considered by the Council come to pass, free parking in Shirley will be slashed from three hours to just 30 minutes. Local business owners are quite understandably worried about the impact this will have on footfall.

After all, they don’t even need to look beyond our borough to see what happens: similar restrictions were introduced in Knowle only last year. Businesses are already reporting a fall in footfall, and hundreds of local people have signed a petition calling for the new arrangement to be overturned.

Shirley residents have their own petition, which has already attracted over a thousand signatures, and I urge councillors to take their concerns on board when making their decision this week.

Local decision-makers must recognise the huge pressures that local, independent shops face today. The last thing bricks-and-mortar retailers need are measures which make them less convenient, especially when they’re trying to compete with online giants such as Amazon.

It also creates an uneven playing field if the free parking allowance for the council-owned carparks on Church Road, Red Lion Square, and Stratford Road offer stricter limits than the customer parking available at privately-owned Parkgate.

The Council should not be trying to squeeze revenue savings out of our local shops, and I urge them again to reconsider these proposals.

Originally published in the Solihull Mail, 07/02/19.