Council chiefs have defended the use of a controversial cashless parking system which has been blamed for causing the worst drop in town centre trade ‘since the 2008 financial crash’.
The new scheme in Ashton-under-Lyne means that drivers need to call, text or download a smartphone app to get 30 minutes free on-street parking, or to pay for a space.
Across the town centre there are 140 spaces on 20 streets that have been converted from limited waiting bays to the cashless system.
These include Stamford Street which runs along the main shopping parade, and streets surrounding the jobcentre and Citizens Advice.
It officially went live on 15th November, and has since been criticised by traders as discriminating against the elderly and people who do not own smartphones.
Conservative Councillor Liam Billington raised the issue at a meeting of Tameside’s full council on Tuesday, and asked the town hall to confirm it wouldn’t be rolling out the app system to other towns in the borough.
Cabinet member for neighbourhood services, Allison Gywnne said the majority of motorists are using the scheme successfully – but did not comment on whether they intended to extend it beyond Ashton.
Coun Billington told members he had been listening to shoppers and traders since the launch two weeks ago who were unhappy with the new system.
He said: “Many of the traders have been telling me that since the changes have come into place their revenue has halved, and with one trader telling me that they have seen a fall of 70pc in their revenue.
“That’s their worst week since the financial crash in 2008. Another told me that they are considering closing within six months.
“This new parking system is regressive and will only lead to more empty shops causing the council to earn less from business rates.”
The app is not ‘user friendly’, and takes ’10 minutes’ to register, he added, and the reduction of free parking from an hour to 30 minutes is a ‘backwards step’.
Coun Billington asked if the council would consider suspending the app until alternative payment methods were available and reverse the decision to reduce free on-street parking.
“Isn’t it time Tameside council supported our high street retailers and stop this greed which is adding to the burden of our constituents who support our town centres?” he said.
Coun Gwynne told the chamber that since its launch more than 1,800 motorists had registered and used the RingGo scheme.
There are 2,300 spaces in Ashton town centre, both council and privately operated, that still take traditional cash payment, she added.
“So for those that do not wish to register or use the app, or don’t have a mobile phone, there is still the option of parking in one of the many town centre car parks and paying with cash in the same area,” she said.
“Tameside’s car parking charge of £1 for three hours still remains one of the cheapest rates across Greater Manchester.”
Blue badge holders are permitted to park in the cashless bays free of charge for an unlimited time, as long as they display their badge clearly, she added.
And Tameside was following in the footsteps of more than 100 other local authorities, and seven railway networks who had rolled out use of the app – including Trafford and Stockport councils.
Coun Gwynne told councillors: “This is a well regarded, proven technology, trusted by public bodies up and down the UK to provide flexible parking solutions, and eight out of 10 Greater Manchester authorities now charge for on-street parking.
“We are monitoring the situation, and although we appreciate a minority are finding the change initially off-putting, we are finding a vast majority of motorists are using the system successfully.”
Under the new rules, anyone wishing to park on-street in Ashton town centre must create a session with RingGo, regardless of how long they intend to park for.
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