Car parking is often an issue in Shaftesbury. And the decision by Tesco to reduce the length of time that vehicles can stay in their car park before risking a £70 penalty charge has divided local opinion.
On 10th December, the supermarket reduced its maximum stay from three hours to two hours, to increase the turnover of parking spaces. In a statement, David Ford from Tesco’s press office told ThisIsAlfred.com, “We have taken the decision to reduce parking at our Shaftesbury store from three hours to two hours to ensure store customers have access to parking at all times.”
Social media responses have been mixed. Some residents have publicly opposed the parking time reduction. Other locals, like Shaftesbury shopper Katrina, can see the merit in freeing up spaces faster. “I think it’s easier if you just want to pop in and pop out. Obviously there are not enough parking spaces for everyone,” she said. As I spoke with Katrina, drivers were circling the car park looking for available spaces.
Mrs Davies displays her blue badge when she needs to park on the High Street. She’s says she’s unaffected by the shorter parking stay at Tesco. “I don’t spend more than two hours up here. I come here once a week to do a shop and I couldn’t walk from here up to town. There is no problem. If I shop in the town, like this morning, then I will go and park outside Boots or the Town Hall or wherever I can.”
The Staceys from Shaftesbury were not concerned about the change at all. “We’re not bothered,” Mr Stacey told me.
But the decision hasn’t pleased Derek Beer. The North Dorset District councillor also served on the Town Council in the early 2000’s, when agents for the supermarket discussed the parking arrangements. Derek says that Tesco was meant to be an integral part of the town and the longer free parking period was key to that.
“The three hours allowed people to do what they would normally do within the town and use the supermarket. The parking was meant to make sure the town stayed vibrant. This was discussed and agreed. It was all about the supermarket working with the town for a better future for both,” Derek said.
Some locals believe that Tesco is required to offer three hours of parking as part of their planning conditions. But Tesco says that not the case. Shaftesbury Town Council Clerk Claire Commons has received enquiries on the matter this week.
“Unfortunately it is not an area where the Town Council has any authority,” explained Claire. “I have taken time to look through the leases that exist between North Dorset and Tesco to make sure that there isn’t anything that has been missed. There is nothing that we can find which has been written into any formal legal agreement, although that might have been part of the discussions at the beginning, back in 2003. There is nothing that Tesco can be held to account for.”
North Dorset District Council sent ThisIsAlfred.com a statement: “We have looked at what we believe to be the final permission for the site and the legal agreement which accompanied this. We can see nothing, which would require car parking for any specific periods of time. It is not likely that we could have required this under a planning condition. The only requirements on highway or parking matters are in relation to the parking layout shown on the plans. There are some conditions requiring the position of the access and closure of other routes, but nothing on the timing or length of parking provision to be made available. It is possible that there could have been something in the conditions of site lease, but these are outside of our knowledge.”
Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Perry hopes that this will only be an issue for the weeks running up to Christmas, when Tesco ‘will be rammed’. “Car parking is tight. In Shaftesbury it is critical, but is not impossible,” David said, adding that there are additional options for town centre shoppers. “We have four hours parking in Angel Lane car park and in the long stay part of the Bell Street car park. That is free every Saturday in December and also every Sunday,” David said.
Shopper Katrina wished that NDDC or the Cattle Market lessee would allow the use of the overflow car park. That space forms part of the Cattle Market site adjacent to Tesco. It is likely to be redeveloped as a low cost supermarket next year and was recently closed to vehicles as the sale progressed. “It’s manic this morning. That’s why the Cattle Market should be open – if just for the Christmas period,” said Katrina.
David Perry agrees. “Tesco used to rely on the overflow parking in the Cattle Market and without that they have a problem. And we have a problem because people overflow from Tesco into the town. Three-hour parking is not the critical thing. The key thing is to get people coming in,” David said.
Claire Commons believes that the loss of this parking facility has had a knock on effect on available spaces. “Tesco had the benefit of the overflow car park for their customers and it was used by townsfolk as well. My understanding is that the sale is progressing at North Dorset District Council. The development, I believe to be a leading supermarket, will go ahead. There’s bound to be parking incorporated in that development but we don’t have the detail.”
David is concerned that fewer spaces could frustrate shoppers. “My worry would be that without the overflow car park people will come into Tesco, drive around three times and then go to Gillingham or Blandford. Once you’ve lost them, you’ve lost them. You’ve not lost the sale. You’ve lost a customer. They will change a habit.”
David doesn’t blame Tesco for reducing the maximum stay time. “Tesco has made the only commercial decision they could make without having an overflow car park,” said David. He believes that a timing restriction is better than no spaces at all. “If their car park gets completely rammed then we have to consider that it’s two hours parking or no parking and I’d rather have two hours.”
Derek Beer is less satisfied. “I suppose if there is a positive to draw from this, more people are able to use a car park as there is a quicker turnover but that is to the detriment of the rest of the town.” But Cllr Beer hopes that the town traders and Tesco can hold a conversation about this parking problem. “Perhaps we could sit around and come to an agreement and say ‘what you are doing is not in the spirit of goodwill to the town of Shaftesbury’,” said Derek.