'Encourage cars back into town centres again'
Eric Pickles has called for councils to put to an end "Draconian" parking policies which he says are contributing to the death of high streets across the Westcountry.
The Communities and Local Government secretary has called on town halls to lower parking charges and get rid of speed bumps and parking bollards that are putting people off travelling in to towns to shop.
His call has come in the week in which his department is set to issue new planning guidance which will force councils to make high streets more car-friendly. However, it has been questioned by local politicians and business representatives in the Westcountry, with one saying it was evidence he did not get "localism".
Mr Pickles said trying to find somewhere to park was an obstacle course in too many towns and cities.
"Draconian town hall parking policies and street clutter can make driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful and actually create more congestion because of lack of places to park," he said. "Anti-car measures are driving motorists into the arms of internet retailers and out of town superstores, taking their custom with them.
"Confusing and difficult car parking practices are undermining the economic vitality of the high street and tourist destinations. Over-zealous parking wardens have inflicted real damage on local economies and given many towns and councils a bad name."
Cornwall Council has committed to lowering parking charges and recently ran a trial in Launceston and is planning further consultations. Alex Folkes, portfolio holder for finance and resources, said: "It's another case of [Mr Pickles] not getting localism. On this occasion I agree with a lot of what he says. Parking charges are hurting the Cornish economy. [On his other points] I disagree with him. Bollards would have been put in for a reason. Councils don't like to spend money for no reason."
Ricky Knight, Barnstaple town councillor and Green Party European candidate, said the suggestion was "absurd": "It would just make traffic on our narrow streets even worse. From the Green Party's point of view, we want to keep cars out of town centres."
Dick Cliffe, chairman of Penzance Chamber of Commerce, said: "High costs of parking is the biggest issue in Penzance.
"If you want to stop people coming to town centres you do two things: put up business rates and increase parking charges."