A long-time free car parking scheme for Christmas shoppers in Lancaster city centre is hanging in the balance.
Lancaster City Council said it has not yet made a decision on whether to offer free car parking on Sundays and Thursday evenings in the run-up to Christmas, as has been traditional.
They have asked for feedback from city centre businesses before deciding whether to offer free car parking this year.
For many years, the council has provided free parking on all of its Lancaster city centre car parks on Sundays and Thursday evenings in the weeks before Christmas to encourage shoppers to visit local businesses.
Lancaster Business Improvement District (BID), an independent organisation which represents city centre businesses, said they had originally been told by a council representative that free Christmas car parking would not be on offer this year. They then asked their members for their views on this.
But a spokesperson for Lancaster City Council said: “A decision on whether to provide free parking this Christmas has yet to be made and before doing so we would welcome a conversation to establish what impact it has had for BID members in previous years."
The BID organises the annual Lancaster Christmas Lights Switch On, to be held this year on Sunday November 26, which traditionally attracts thousands of people and is a major boost for the city centre economy.
The BID said it is also worried about the council's wider plans for car parking in Lancaster.
Plans to revamp the Canal Quarter area of the city includes proposals to cut public car parking spaces over the next three to 10 years.
A statement on the BID website said: "Lancaster BID has recently been made aware of a number of proposed changes to city centre parking which give us cause for concern.
"We have spoken with a small number of businesses which will be most heavily impacted and confirmed very low levels of awareness of the proposals.
"We are sharing this information to ensure all city centre businesses are aware of the planned changes and to invite you to share your thoughts with us.
"The Lancaster BID board of directors is very concerned about the combined impact of these proposals which have been developed without an adequate parking strategy for the city. Your views will help give us a broader view from all levy paying businesses to help us initiate conversations with Lancaster City Council and other key partners and to lobby on your behalf.
"Nelson Street Car Park is scheduled to close early in 2024 with the loss of 105 spaces to build new homes on the site. Lancaster BID has been aware of this proposal for 12 months and felt that, in isolation, the loss of parking would be offset by the development bringing new residents into the city.
Nelson Street car park is pictured below
"However, we have recently been made aware that this is only one part of a wider plan to vastly reduce parking provision in the city.
"We have now been made aware of the proposed loss of a further 400 car parking spaces around St Leonardsgate as a key part of the proposed Canal Quarter Masterplan recently adopted by Lancaster City Council. This will significantly reduce city centre parking as well as causing serious issues for neighbouring businesses such as The Grand Theatre and The Dukes. It also potentially impacts on the only designated coach parking in the city centre. Neighbouring businesses were unaware of these proposals."
A plan to transform the derelict Canal Quarter area of Lancaster into a “vibrant district which is welcoming and inclusive” was backed by Lancaster City Council in July. See artist's impression below.
The masterplan proposes "a network of new high-quality public realms" in the area that will "prioritise pedestrian and cycle movements over private vehicles in line with the council’s aspirations to tackle climate change" and a "walkable neighbourhood".
Read more on the Canal Quarter Masterplan here:
As part of the proposals, the council will build new housing on the Nelson Street car park and has earmarked a site at St Leonardgate for housing development too.
The BID spokesperson also said: "Castle Car Park, previously named Parksafe and now operated by Lancaster City Council under a long lease, is currently closed due to 'structural surveys' with no timescale given as to when this might be resolved.
"This already reduces the available parking in the city centre."
Castle Car Park is pictured below (image from Lancaster BID)
Councillor Nick Wilkinson, cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration, skills and digital innovation (pictured below), said: “I welcome Lancaster BID’s commitment to working with the city council on developing a strategic response to the city’s off street parking facilities.
"Doing so is a key component of the Canal Quarter development and one we are acutely aware of the need to address.
“The masterplan, which was subject to extensive consultation and a wide range of stakeholders and the public, including Lancaster BID, does propose a reduction in public car parking spaces on the site over the next three to 10 years.
“However, as a part of the wider transport work, noting that the County Council are responsible for transport infrastructure, we will be looking at the overall parking situation in Lancaster. This will include looking at parking need in the city centre for the future. I fully intend to engage with local businesses as a part of this work.
“With reference to the Castle car park, the level of occupancy has traditionally been low but we are working on a plan for a partial reopening and will update again very soon.”
This is not the first time in recent years that Lancaster City Council's car parking policy has caused controversy.
The council has also been making budget cuts this year which have included closing local Visitor Information Centres, seeking a new operator for The Platform arts and concert venue in Morecambe, and cutting its museums' opening hours.
They have said the cuts are due to "spiralling inflation and years of government under-funding" made worse by the current cost of living crisis and rise in energy prices.