A new, official long-stay car park could available in Shaftesbury Town Centre later this year. Parking fees would fund community projects and it is hoped that sustainable, electric vehicle charging points would form part of this development on Coppice Street.
“This is an extremely exciting opportunity for Shaftesbury,” said Cllr Andy Hollingshead. “We are thrilled with it and we’re very grateful to Dorset Council and Tesco for supporting the concept. We are going to work very hard to make it something very positive for the town.” Andy chaired Tuesday’s General Management meeting, which discussed this new long-stay parking, proposed with town centre workers, nearby residents and visitors in mind.
Dorset Council owns the plot of land between the Royal British Legion Hall and Tesco. This space is leased to the supermarket until 2202, but Tesco doesn’t need it. The public toilets at the centre of this plot closed when the store opened in 2004 and the building is considered too small for any other use.
At Tuesday’s meeting, deputy mayor Piers Brown said he was ‘excited’ by the prospect of sub-letting the land from Tesco. The Town Council would retain the income from parking charges and that cash would be diverted towards the council’s annual community grants fund, which is currently a £30,000 kitty. “It allows the council to take what is an unruly piece of public car parking, not managed by anyone, and generate a significant amount of funds that can be ploughed into community grants and support for great causes here in Shaftesbury,” said Piers.
Cllr Brown says this project would lower Shaftesbury residents’ council tax payments. The proportion of the bill issued by Dorset Council, that funds our local Town Hall, could be reduced because the parking income would top up the local grants pot. “This community asset can reduce the Town Council’s precept part of the council tax by approximately 4%,” Piers estimated.
Around forty designated parking spaces would be marked out on the land, which currently doesn’t feature designated bays. Piers described the existing free-for-all parking on the site as ‘rather wild west’.
There is a demand for more spaces across town. The Neighbourhood Plan consultation revealed that 76% of people wanted more parking provision in Shaftesbury. A consultants’ report produced data to explain why. During their November 2018 study, the experts found that Angel Lane and Bell Street car parks were often full or near to capacity. Barton Hill Car Park, often used by staff working in town, is close to full.
There is a demand for more long-stay spaces, in particular. The Chamber of Commerce has evidence from members who have faced difficulty arranging long seminars or business sessions because visitors need to move their cars during the day.
Town Council Business Manager Brie Logan told the council meeting that she had uncovered over 1,000 documents relating to discussions between the Town Council and the former North Dorset District Council over this land. Dorset Council, which took over as landowner last year, have looked favourably on the Town Hall’s proposal. Their Property Management Group approved the car park plan back in January.
“This has been an ambition for the Town Council for a while,” explained meeting chairman, Cllr Andy Hollingshead. “We have needed for it to be the right time. With the creation of Dorset Council and Tesco’s position, it came together, and we have an ideal opportunity to develop a new parking facility for the town.” Tesco’s property asset manager for Southern England has verbally approved the proposal, Brie explained, although the Tesco board will have the final say.
The Town Council’s draft plans suggests charging a £10 weekly parking fee, although Cllr John Lewer was concerned that the sum exceeds the £4.61 weekly charge for residents who park their vehicles in other car parks. “If we are going to be providing parking permits, we will need to come up with a charging regime which is fair, proportionate and accords with that which Dorset Council applies to Bell Street and Angel Lane car parks. That’s part of the detail we have to work through,” said Andy.
Currently, the unofficial and free parking space next to the redundant toilet is often full. “We understand that people are likely not going to be happy with having to pay,” said Piers. “That’s why we are linking it to the community grants funding. It means all that money will be reinvested into our community, to support it and, hopefully, make it thrive. Some people will be fine. Some people might have to move their car parking or look at public transport arrangements if they can’t.”
Andy says stakeholders will be consulted before the plans are set in stone. “We will want to take people’s views and recommendations. We will be talking to organisations, for example the Chamber of Commerce and others, to get their views.”
These Coppice Street car park proposals meet another of our community’s demands voiced during the Neighbourhood Plan consultation. Shaftesbury residents wanted the Town Council to pursue more sustainable power options. The plans sketch out ideas for a solar-powered ‘energy hub’ which could be used by shoppers, workers or residents to charge their electric vehicle during the day or overnight.
Brie says that Tesco would consider gifting the land to the Town Council as part of this ‘ten-year partnership’ and at no charge. But Cllr Peter Yeo raised concern over that. “There is the danger that after ten years, Tesco could decide not to extend the lease, but they would still have all of that infrastructure and car parking with electric charging points on their land. As Acquisitions Member of the Town Council, it would be a really good idea if we could enter into negotiations with Tesco, so we could buy that bit of land off them. Then we can have much longer-term investment,” said Cllr Yeo. Cllr Matthew Welch expressed a similar view.
Andy Hollingshead said there was the potential to discuss the length of lease in the future. “The initial thinking was to have a ten-year lease which allows us to develop the concept. Then, if it works, everyone can expand the lease for a longer period. That is all part of the discussion that needs to be held. We haven’t even drawn a policy. It’s all very much in the early stages,” said Andy.
The proposal assumes the demolition of the toilet block and the removal of a tree. Brie Logan says that would be subject to discussion with Dorset Council’s Tree Officer. Cllr Hollingshead says those details can be debated. “We’ll need to have a look at some drawings and take some advice on what the best thing to do is. There is a view that we should keep and refurbish the toilet. Other people think we should remove them to create more parking. It’s early days.”
Cllr Alex Chase will liaise with other councillors and Town Hall staff in fleshing out more details of this plan. Mayor Tim Cook says he expects the Full Council to ratify these proposals at its meeting later this month. “We will pull together a project development document which will outline the various options of how to take this forward. We will hopefully have a final plan, which we can agree with the landlords, Dorset Council and Tesco, and we can move on to develop it,” said Andy.
The Town Council estimate that removing the tree, if required, demolishing the loos and the rest of the required work will cost around £25,000. If the Full Council back the plans, as they are expected to do, Andy hopes the new car park will be open for business sometime this summer.