Scrapped free festive parking a ‘kick in the teeth’ to Sheffield City Centre, say local businesses

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Local business owners fear that removing free parking could rob them of the boost they need to recover in the post-COVID economy.

Historically, Sheffield City Council have provided the free parking as a “gesture of goodwill” to increase spending over the Christmas period. but say the move is essential to reducing climate change and air pollution, encouraging people to use public transport alternatives.

‘It’s like a ghost town’

According to Centre for Cities, footfall in Sheffield city centre has recently decreased and it is still lagging behind pre-pandemic standards. Compared to pre-lockdown, the footfall decrease is especially true amongst those who are most likely to drive into Sheffield, such as people coming from other towns and cities.

In the run up to Christmas, the average UK family spends 29% more than other months and with unemployment on the rise in Sheffield, business owners worry that charging for parking will dissuade people from spending in city centre shops.

Shop owner in shop

Heidi Carvalho, Owner of Black Tourmaline

Heidi Carvalho, owner of Black Tourmaline, said: “The thing I get most from my customers is ‘oh I’ll come back on payday’ ‘I don’t have the funds right now’  so if free parking helps give them that bit extra it just helps to keep things moving” 

“Our local carpark is so ridiculously expensive and if people have to spend that money on parking they’re not going to want to spend it here, not at all. It is a bit of a kick in the teeth to small businesses”

Many shop owners have expressed concern that shoppers will move out of the city centre to Meadowhall, where parking is free. Tim Nye, owner of popular café chain Marmadukes said: “parking is a massive, massive issue for people and it is crazy expensive, so why wouldn’t you just go to Meadowhall?”

These concerns follow the closure of as many as 43 city centre shops over the pandemic, including chains like Debenhams and John Lewis.

What do locals think?

Christian Bates, co-owner of vintage shop Savage Sister said he had lived in Sheffield his whole life “and if you came to the city centre ten years ago, it was bustling, there was loads of little shops, little independent businesses and high street brands but now its like a ghost town. So to stop free parking is stupid”.

“Everybody’s saying the retail industry needs support, it needs a push, it’s struggling, and then they do things like that and it just seems a bit backhanded. We do need the footfall, we need a boost.”

‘Bad for climate change’

The removal of free parking contradicts the expansion of the scheme to include areas outside of the city centre last year to “give shops a much-needed boost in the run up to Christmas”. But this year the council has scrapped the initiative, claiming it would be inconsistent with attempts to address climate change such as the clean air zone. The zone will impose charges on vehicles which do not meet emissions standards and will come into force next year.

Christian Bates, co-owner of Savage Sister

Christian Bates, co-owner of Savage Sister

Councillor Douglas Johnson told the Sheffield Wire: “I want to encourage people to come to the city centre on foot, on bikes, on the bus and on the tram.”

“Bringing unnecessary private cars in to the city centre is bad for air pollution, bad for climate change, bad for congestion, bad for road safety and bad for buses.”

But to some businesses, parking charges are attempts at “money grabbing”. Tom Smith, manager of Vintage Kilo on Division Street, told the Sheffield Wire: “I think in the switch with how people shop, more people are shopping online so the council are thinking, well if there’s less people coming into the city centre we’re gonna lose out so we need to start putting prices back up on parking”

Eleanor Bird, owner of Bird Opticians, also highlighted that many are still afraid to use public transport due to Covid: “There’s less people, especially older people, that are happy coming on the bus, they find driving a lot safer as people aren’t wearing masks on buses or trains”

50% cut to tram services

There is also less public transport available. The push for increased use of public transport comes as Sheffield’s main bus and tram company, Stagecoach, has announced strike action from the 28th of November to the 5th of December, alongside a 50% cut to tram services to a shortage of drivers.

Tram on street

Tram services have been cut by 50%

Frazer Habershon, director of Frazer’s Coffee said: “public transport isn’t reliable, the connections aren’t good.”

“I think if they are gonna charge for parking, I would rather see it spent on having better transport links and then that means you don’t have to bring cars into the city. If the idea is to make it a green city, make public transport better, that means everyone can use it and long term, it’s more sustainable.”

As the festive period commences, business owners are encouraging shoppers are to visit the city centre. Ms Carvalho, owner of Black Tourmaline, said: “Post-Covid, you’ve got a lot more small businesses opening which is great. But I don’t know how to will fare long term because I’m seeing those same businesses close and that’s really sad.”

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