Councillor Shoab Akhtar meeting with local traders

Councillor Shoab Akhtar meeting with local traders

Oldham Council is set to consider new plans for the future of its free parking offer in the town centre.

A three-month pilot scheme has been in operation since January 7th with the aim of boosting footfall and trade. That offer, set to end on Friday, April 5th, gives motorists two hours of free ‘off-street’ parking at Council-owned car parks in the town centre, plus 30-minutes of free on-street parking in pay-and-display bays.

An evaluation of the pilot found it to be extremely popular; producing an increase in the use of town centre car parks by 31 per cent.

Other findings showed that while national retailers reported year-on-year sales were down in 2011 and 2012, Oldham’s retailers confirmed their sales were up in early 2013 by between two and four per cent. Traders also reported increases in footfall and the number of transactions made.

Local independent retailers say their year-on-year sales have remained at about the same level – but they also have evidence of new shoppers, plus the return of previous customers.

A report on the proposed free parking scheme for the next 12 months will now be considered at Cabinet on Monday, March 25th (6pm).

It recommends the future offer should be:

Three hours of free parking on Saturdays and Sundays for all ‘off-street’ town centre car parks.
A continuation of free ‘on-street’ car parking* for 30-minutes: seven days a week.
Increasing the maximum stay on Tommyfield and Clegg Street car parks from two to three hours: seven days a week.
The continuation of free all day car parking at Hobson Street on Saturdays and Sundays.

Councillor Shoab Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Business, Skills and the Town Centre, said, “We’ve had excellent feedback from business and shoppers during this three-month free parking pilot and now need to decide what our future offer will be. The scheme has shown a 31 per cent increase this year in people using off-street town centre car parks, which is excellent news for all concerned.

“The evaluation survey also showed good awareness of the offer. Around 60 per cent of people said they knew about the free parking before visiting the town centre, and two-thirds of those agreed they came to Oldham because of that offer. It’s also encouraging that 23.5 per cent of the survey respondents were from outside of Oldham. Usually that figure is between 13 and 19 per cent, so new visitors have clearly been attracted.

“What we’ve also found is that the dynamics of some car parks changed significantly on weekdays as opposed to weekends. Many office and business users working for town centre employers would normally be parking in the area, so it seems many switched their habits to take advantage of the free parking instead of using their usual paid-for spaces. That’s understandable but it did also reduce the turnover of available spaces for visiting shoppers visiting.

“Subject to Cabinet’s approval, the proposed future offer seeks to continue to incentivise weekend visitors with up to three hours now of free parking on Saturdays and Sundays. We also believe the continuation of the 30 minutes of free on-street parking in pay and display bays is vital. That offer continued to be taken up at the previous level during this pilot. Given the ongoing Metrolink roadworks, and the fact that some vehicles will have moved to take up the longer off-street free parking, it shows this offer remains very popular to shoppers.

“In making its decision on Monday, Cabinet will also be aware that this move will have financial implications. It will cost us an additional estimated £244,000 above our existing budget over the next 12 months. However, as a Co-operative Council we must consider our leadership role in the local economy and, working with partners, do our bit to help Oldham town centre continue to prosper in the run-up to the arrival of our new Metrolink line.”



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