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

Solihull Observer.

I share the concerns of many local residents about proposals to slash free parking in Shirley Town Centre.

Councillors are apparently considering plans to cut free parking times from three hours to just 30 minutes. This will affect several council-operated car parks including those on Church Road, Red Lion Square, and near the Aldi and Iceland branches on Stratford Road.

I fully understand why local business owners are worried by these proposals. A half-hour window is just enough to pick up the essentials, but affords visitors no time to have a wander, browse the shops, and discover something new.

Such a move would also put local independent shops at a further disadvantage compared to those in nearby Parkgate – one reason the Council originally promised to match three hours free parking back in 2012.

We have already seen the effects of such a policy elsewhere in the Borough. Free parking times were cut to half an hour in Knowle last summer, and business owners are already reporting a squeeze from a fall in footfall.

Now over a thousand local residents have signed a petition urging the Council to repeal the charges – and Shirley residents have matched them with their own petition urging councillors to maintain the current three-hour parking policy.

They have my full support, and I have written to the Council to make my opposition clear. One of Solihull’s great strengths is our diverse and thriving high streets, and it is deeply counter-productive to undermine local businesses in order to find short-term revenue savings.

Ever since I was first returned to represent our town in Parliament I have been proud to help support our independent shops and entrepreneurs, both through my own ‘Best Local Shop’ competition and events such as ‘Solihull Independents’ Day’.

At a time when bricks-and-mortar retailers are under increasing pressure from online shopping, the last thing we need is policies which make our high streets less convenient for customers. I strongly urge the Council to reconsider these proposals, and look instead at policies which will help shoppers discover more of what our town has to offer.

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