The Cheltenham Parking Puzzle
Something perplexes me every time I drive past the old Black
and White Coach Station and Portland Square car parks. Once these sites are
closed for redevelopment, where are the hundreds of cars that are using it on a
daily basis going to park? It's something I've been pondering on since the
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boards went up advertising that the sites were for sale, and seems to be
indicative of a wider Cheltenham wide problem when it comes to providing
adequate parking for a town this size.
Anyone who has tried to find a parking space during the peak
periods at Christmas in Cheltenham will know that it is often a task beset with
stress and the risk of failure. During the many festivals staged each year in
Cheltenham, parking in the town centre is surely an essential part of attracting
an audience from a catchment area that far exceeds the locals of Cheltenham.
People visit the town from many miles away to experience the rich and varied
festival offerings that are meticulously put together each year. What will
their festival experience be like once they have to add an extra hour to their
trip just to find a parking space, or journey from the outskirts of town on the
Park and Ride?
Over the past 18 months, the council has steadily taken away
the number of free parking spaces that were fairly abundant around the town
centre and replaced them with metered parking spaces. In addition, large areas
of free residential parking have been replaced or are due to be replaced with
annual parking permits under the guise of making it better for local residents.
Many residents in Tivoli and Fairview have campaigned against the introduction of
parking permits as an unnecessary expense, with mixed success.
To me, the sale of the two large car park sites and the
implementation of widespread paid parking spaces in previously free parking
areas are intrinsically linked. The income generated from the widespread use of
parking metres and parking permits will undoubtedly make up for the large
amount of money no longer being generated by the two sites once they are closed
for public use. Even though there will be 609 spaces in the new development, these will be for for public use, the food
store and the hotel.
I've read with interest the council's plans to offer
discounts to motorists brave enough to park in the 'extraordinarily ugly'
Grosvenor Terrace car park. The uninviting and claustrophobic building is due
to be overhauled later this year when the two main car parks are closed,
however, the improvements would need to be on a fantastic scale to make it as
appealing as the space of the open air
options currently available.
It makes me ask a more general question about parking
provision for key services in Cheltenham, not necessarily provided by the council.
The first site that is ludicrously under provided for in terms of short term
parking is the main Cheltenham Post Sorting Office off the Lower High Street.
Whenever I see a card dropped through my door telling me that a letter couldn't
be delivered and that I must pick it up from the main sorting office, my heart
sinks at the thought of having to run the gauntlet of the ridiculous parking
For a start, you have to be driving past the sorting office
towards Swindon Road rather than towards the Lower High Street for a decent
chance of nabbing one of the three paltry spaces available directly outside the
collection point. If you are driving towards the Lower High Street and get
stuck indicating to park when the flow of on-coming traffic is heavy (which is
when many people go to pick up their parcels - after work), you have very
little chance of receiving a courtesy wave from a car coming in the opposite
direction and will most likely have to drive to the Waitrose roundabout and
back to ensure that you are on the favourable side of the road. In addition to
this, the three spaces available are obviously not enough, especially around
Christmas when the number of packages to be collected rises sharply. So you end
up mounting the kerb, risking the wrath of other parcel collectors to join the
snaking queue that inevitably winds its way out of the compact waiting area and
along the pavement outside. The whole experience is extremely unpleasant and
ill thought out.
I'm surprised after all the years since the main sorting
office was built that people don't complain about it more – perhaps they've
just accepted the awful arrangement as something that can't be changed. The
truth of the matter is that the pavement outside is wide enough to provide a
good 6-8 spaces; yes, the pavement would need to be narrower, but it's not like
it's a main thoroughfare with crowds of pedestrians passing constantly by.
The other parking problem I've come across, is the provision
of exactly zero parking spaces at Cheltenham General Hospital dedicated for
people giving birth or visiting the maternity ward. When I had my first child
ten years ago, the parking at maternity/oncology end of the hospital was
available for all. My husband and I were absolutely flabbergasted when we went
to our first scan for our second child this year to realise that the entire
area had been given over to the oncology unit for those displaying the relevant
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the oncology
patients don't deserve a large proportion of the parking spaces, but the
midwife led maternity unit should receive a percentage of the parking spaces
available. Just what do expectant fathers do during those busy months of the
summer when the lido car park is full to capacity and the general parking
spaces at the front of the building are unavailable? It beggars belief to me.
When I enquired - rather perplexed - to the lady on the reception area in the
maternity unit, she replied wearily that I was quite welcome to make a
complaint about it and pointed out a piece of paper on the reception desk that
detailed where complaints could be directed. So I don't think I'm on my own at
finding this arrangement unfair and quite frankly, disturbing.
So what is the answer to the variety of parking problems in
Cheltenham? I don't know; but the current strategy seems to be solely aimed at
maintaining the income that will be lost when the two car parks close. I
haven't even touched on how the closure of the two car parks will impact the already
struggling town centre. This is the biggest question to me - how the council
proposes to maintain the image of Shoppers Paradise and Festival Central when
the people it wants to attract won't be able to find easily accessible parking.