Lancaster theatres, venues and nightlife ‘need car parking charges to help them, not harm’

Lancaster’s theatres, entertainment venues, restaurants and hospitality businesses need a car parking system that encourages, not deters, visitors, a leading councillor has said.

By Robbie Macdonald, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Monday, 14th February 2022, 12:30 pm

A proposed new simpler system of tariffs has raised worries that theatre and restaurant customers could be deterred, just as theatres, arts venues and restaurants recover from lockdown. So extra parking options for arts and entertainment audiences are to be looked at.

And specific talks are needed with theatres and entertainment venues to better-identify their needs and opinions, which may be different to other business groups and sectors, the city council’s cabinet has been told.

Labour councillor Sandra Thornberry has raised worries about a set of proposed new car park tariffs outlined for Lancaster city centre. She was speaking at Lancaster City Council’s latest cabinet meeting, during an update on proposed new tariffs for the district. Fees have not changes since 2018 and councillors accept that some changes are needed.

The Dukes in Lancaster.

In Lancaster, the proposes charges are £1 for 30 mins, £2 for one hour, £4 for three hours, £9 for nine hours and £12 for 24 hours..

In Morecambe, short-stay three-hour maximum car parks would have options of £2, £3 or £4.

Other Morecambe car park charges would mostly be £1, £2, £4 or £8 for 30 mins, two hours, four hours or 24 hours respectively. Heysham would have £2 or £3 options for two hours or 24 hours.

Coun Thornberry told the cabinet: “Regarding Lancaster city centre tariffs, has there been consultation by council officers with the important organisations which might be effected? I’m thinking of the Grand and the Dukes theatres, plus other entertainment venues and the restaurants that often link with them.”

Lancaster's Grand Theatre.

Green councillor Gina Dowding, who had outlined the tariff plans, said: “The BID business improvement organisation and chamber of commerce have had opportunities to give feedback to officers. There could also opportunities to create flexible arrangements in future between car parks and hospitality businesses, such as the former Park Safe night time scheme. Council officers are ready to work with local businesses on options.”

But in a debate, Coun Thornberry added: “I have considerable concern about the proposed Lancaster rates. I have spoken to the Grand Theatre and to volunteers at the Duke’s but didn’t get the chance to speak to the manager.

“The proposals include the removal of low evening and night parking charges that we currently have. The proposed time allocation also jumps from three to nine hours. Three hours is not enough for theatre visitors. A family going to a panto would not get there-and-back within three hours. Yet the nine-hour tariff at £9 would be a huge deterrent for a family visit.

“In the evenings, a lot of theatre audiences want to spend more than three hours in the city centre. Many would want a meal deal that both the theatres run. But they’d be facing a £9 parking charge, which would be a big deterrent.

“Pensioners can get £4.50 cinema ticket deals but if they face a £9 parking charge, they’ll say ‘forget it’.

“I accept parking rates need to rise but these plans would be a big jump. ”

Coun Thornberry added: “Many buses to outlying places do not run at 10pm, so people cannot travel home by bus at night time. So they rely on car parks being affordable.

“These tariffs could have a very big and worrying effect on the night time economy and these big institutions. This is a time when they are working hard to get back their full audiences, especially the Grand. It is trying to attract older audiences back who were deterred by the pandemic.”

She called for the proposed tariffs to be remodelled. Perhaps a six-hour rate at £5 would be an option. Morecambe had a four-hour option, she noted. So there was flexibility in different locations.

She emphasised: “Various councillors are involved in this work. The big arts and culture organisations in Lancaster are very important to the city and wider district.”

Coun Dowding said she understood the concerns. Council officers would asked to look at extra options for parking times and fees, and culture sector and night time options.

Officers agreed but they also said that data had been used to draw-up the proposed new time options. Also any new options would need to comply with city council budget pans for 2022-23.

Labour councillor Erica Lewis added: “It’s important to look at all this, given the importance of data and the night time economy. But this may have been the second time that consultations with the BID group and the chamber of commerce have not connected with the arts-and-culture sector needs. There needs to be a better way of building relationships with the arts-and-culture.”

Councillors were told that the proposed new parking fee changes had been generally well-received at a recent BID (Business Improvement District) meeting.