June 8, 2022 2.00 pm This story is over 24 months old

“We are listening”: Council responds to parking scheme concerns as businesses fear closure

One business already blamed the changes for it going under

Lincolnshire County Council bosses have said they are listening to business owners’ concerns that a new traffic scheme in Louth could lead to closures.

However, they said there was a lot of misinformation about the issue on social media.

Councillors said some claims about the Louth Active Travel Scheme – which looks to improve pedestrian and cycling access to the town – are wrong.

The scheme, an 18-month long trial, sees the restriction of traffic along Mercer Row to create a larger pedestrianised area feeding into the Cornmarket.

It began in March following a near year long consultation by LCC.

One local business posted on Facebook over the bank holiday weekend that it was closing, placing the blame firmly on parking issues around Mercer Row.

Shawn Murray, who closed Hungry Belly Café told Local Democracy Reporters that the new Louth Active Travel Scheme was preventing customers and delivery drivers from parking near to businesses.

He said he had seen a drop in customers and had ended a venture with Just Eat, with his income no longer meeting rising costs elsewhere.

“The council needs to look at it from the business’ point of view and how much stress it’s causing,” he told Local Democracy Reporters.

Shawn is not the only business with concerns, with several taking to social media.

Chameleon, on Mercer Row. | Image: Google Streetview

Kerry Ashby, owner of Chameleon, is disabled and currently suffers from cancer.

She said: “I used to be able to park outside, even on the yellow line for three hours by my shop.

“I’m now having trouble getting to my shop because they have taken away the parking.”

She acknowledged there were new disabled spaces, but said they were “only available a few days a week” and that parking further out from the high street was causing problems for elderly visitors.

“People aren’t walking up the street, it’s like a ghost town.”

Some drivers have been reportedly parking on double yellows just before the narrow junction with Eastgate and blocking Mercer Row for larger vehicles, causing the town centre to come to a standstill.

Kerry has four years left on her lease, but has concerns over the future of her business.

“In summer we’re ok because we get passing trade from holiday makers but the winter months are going to be the test of time,” she said

Rachael Brader, from Jemima and Drake Lifestyle Boutique moved from Mercer Row to Eastgate before the changes came in, however, she said the economic situation had “got worse”.

The business owner recently launched a pre-loved line of items, but said: “I’m actually thinking of shutting. We have got one more year on this lease. If it doesn’t pick up we’ll call it a day.

“It’s definitely made an impact. I don’t know whether it’s parking, or Louth, or life in general but I think [the scheme’s] probably the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

District and town Councillor Jill Makinson-Sanders.

Independent Louth Town Councillor Jill Makinson Sanders told reporters: “Louth isn’t working”.

“There isn’t the overall support for this scheme. It’s not just Mercer Row and loss of trade it’s the cumulative effect this has had.

“It’s hitting the whole of Louth. People don’t want to come because it’s just such a mess.

“Who on Earth would want to sit in Cornmarket in the middle of Winter?

“The whole thing is a shambles.”

Lincolnshire County and East Lindsey District Councillor Sarah Parkin.

However, fellow Unaligned district and county councillor Sarah Parkin said the scheme was a good way of rethinking people’s different habits and behaviours in the face of climate change and public health crises.

“We have very strong evidence that the more pedestrian friendly you make your town centre, the better it is for business,” she said.

“I firmly believe that in the long run if we give the scheme a chance it will be of benefit to the town.”

She said naysayers were presenting a “doomsday scenario” and that there was an “abundance of parking” in areas such as Northgate, Queen Street and New Market.

She said she’d had positive comments from businesses which had benefited from the café culture changes, including Larders, the Auction House, Tina’s, Mason’s, Consortium and Saucy Lady.

Cllr Richard Davies

LCC’s Highways portfolio holder Councillor Richard Davies said he appreciated the concerns, however, following several visits to the town, believed Louth was “in a really great place”.

“Most of our market towns would be thrilled, frankly, to be as busy as Louth is,” he said.

“There’s a huge amount of footfall.

“It’s a pretty town with lots of independent traders, and that’s what we need to work hard to support.”

He said the Active Travel Scheme had not actually changed that much on Mercer Row and that there was “a degree of misinformation”.

He said accusations of new double yellow line restrictions were not the case and that existing delivery bays had not been removed.

He also added that some double yellow lines had been for a long time double tabbed meaning parking shouldn’t have taken place there in the first place.

However, he admitted some mistakes had been made as the scheme was set up, including in communicating the changes.

He said planned “parklets” – areas on the road which will include seating – would “dramatically” improve the situation.

He added something needed to be done to reverse the “downward trend” of market town shoppers going elsewhere due to a lack of product.

“There are lots of places that are fully pedestrianised and people are prepared to walk great distances and they seem to do extremely well off the back of it,” he added.

He said the council was taking feedback from local businesses and “tweaking the scheme” – adding that the bottlenecking issues near the former Barclay’s Bank were being looked at.

“I think Councillor Makinson-Sanders is wrong, I don’t agree with it. Louth is working,” he said.

“We will continue to improve the scheme and we’ll take feedback from members of the public who’ve got something valuable had to add to the conversation.”