Despite opposition from the authorities in Harrogate, support is growing for Harrogate traders' campaign for three hours free parking in the town centre.
From an award-winning chip shop to a florists which has just won a gold medal at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, organisers of the campaign now say their case is backed by 50 Harrogate shops and restaurants.
And the online petition called 'Free 3 Hour Parking in Harrogate' at change.org has now received nearly 1,500 signatures in just over a week
Ian Walker, the principal director of family-run Walker Galleries, was among those saying something "drastic" had to be done to ensure the future of the town centre.
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Among the well-known names supporting the campaign are Ogden of Harrogate, G23 and Porters, Whites of Harrogate, Walker Galleries, Brown Trout, Morgan Clare, William Woods Interior Design, Bijouled, Caroline Gardner Design, Graveleys of Harrogate, Helen James Flowers, Bang & Olufsen, Arkrights Hardware, Imagined Things and Woods of Harrogate Ltd.
Free parking schemes in other parts of England
Some of the traders supporting the campaign are pointing to other towns and cities where they say introducing free parking has boosted local shops and trade.
The examples they give include:
Morpeth: Northumbria County Council introduced ‘3 Hour Free Parking’ a year ago which has, reportedly, made a huge difference especially in Morpeth and Alnwick, increased turnover by over 25% in a year.
Newcastle: A similar scheme was introduced in Newcastle as a result of pressure from retailers to counteract the negative affect of shopping with free parking at the Metro Centre which had destroyed city centre shopping.
Free parking from 5-8pm in the centre was introduced which boosted trade significantly.
'Why we want more free parking' - in Harrogate traders' own words
Ian Walker, of Walker Galleries, said: "We are in total agreement that something drastic needs to be done about the parking in Harrogate if the independent retailers are to survive.
"We have had galleries in Harrogate for over 40 years and at one time had three outlets in the town. Today we only have one and this would be hard pushed to survive if it was not for outside exhibitions held in London , Harrogate and Buxton.
"We have faith that Harrogate has a great future but only if the council and the retailers work together in the best interests of the town.
"We would add that whilst we are supporters of other events taking place in the town, it would have been prudent to consult the retailers who pay the rates before booking an event that will effectively shut down the town for a week in September at a time when shops are closing on an almost weekly basis."
Robert and Ben Ogden, of Ogden jewellers, said: "We are concerned about the challenges facing retail in Harrogate, particularly with recent closures, and we are keen to speak with other retailers about ways the situation might be improved.
"As of March 9.9% of the town centre was boarded up, but the new figure due in June is likely to be even greater.
"I have heard about an interesting initiative in the North East, particularly in Morpeth and Alnwick, where parking has been free for a limited period since 2014.
"A Morpeth retailer I spoke to said it has been transformative, literally ‘saving the high street’."There would be an obvious loss in parking revenue on an immediate basis, but the gains to the local economy would surely mitigate this.
"If nothing is done the knock-on effects of losing more town centre shops will be serious and experienced by everyone in the community, and local industries including the property sector and professional service providers will all suffer.
Bob Kennedy-Bruyneels, of G23 and Porters menswear, said: "I believe that roadside parking is controlled by North Yorkshire County Council, and multi-storey parking is controlled by Harrogate Borough Council.
"Despite previously being warned of the damage increasing charges and charging on Sundays would do to town centre retail, North Yorkshire County Council, in particular, decided to go ahead with these amendments and I think that this, along with other issues, has been responsible for the towns’ demise."
Tim Brown, of Brown Trout superior fishing tackle, said: "We are in full support of this idea to offer a period of free parking, the independent businesses like ours have always been a huge pull for visitors to this town and need protecting."
Elaine Briggs, of Morgan Clare women's designer clothing, said: "Whilst the impact of online cannot be ignored, it is important to remember that over 80% of sales are still made in bricks and mortar stores.
"Harrogate has a strong presence of independents which form part of the town uniqueness but ease of access to the town is key to maintaining this.
"The parking is a constant issue and one that is mentioned regularly by our own customers.
"It seems the journey into town has become more of a military exercise than the pleasurable shopping experience it should be and it is time that Harrogate Council seriously addressed the issue.”
Nicholas Richardson, of William Woods Interior Design, said: "I started this petition to raise public awareness of the high streets’ demise.
"Support from the local and county council is essential because there seems to be a vacuum where ‘popular supportive action’ could be? What have they actually done to help the shops/restaurants?
"Whilst we all accept the internet plays a part, bricks and mortar shops rely on at least 80% of their trade from customers shopping in person.
"Perhaps a full public parking consultation by North Yorkshire County Council, like the congestion one, could be one good idea?"
Georgina Collins, of Bijouled gift shop, said: "Car parking charges significantly impact on our business. Customers who do not want to spend lots of money on parking have less time to browse, not just in our shop, but in the town as a whole.
"Sunday car parking charges are also impacting on our footfall. Retail is facing many challenges at the moment and Harrogate needs to find creative ways through its parking management strategies that will bring people to the town and not drive them away."
Caroline and Iain Gardner, of Caroline Gardner Design, said: "Customers now really do need to be incentivised to visit and support their local retailers.
"Good product availability & keen prices are only part of a strategy to tempt people away from using their iPads to shop on line.
"A three-hour free parking initiative needs to be part of the plan with the local council & retailers working together to encourage people to support their local retailers “
Robert Pilkington, of Graveleys of Harrogate fish n chip shop, said: "I definitely agree about the stupidity of increasing parking fees in Harrogate.
"As an independent company that we should all stick together and try and restore some sensible trading back into Harrogate.
"It was always renowned for its quality independent traders and I am sure that’s what is needed in the future.
"We have seen the result of bringing in all these National companies and the only thing they have brought is disaster for the town and made it difficult for all the independents who suffer from a dilution of business in the early days."
Helen James, of Helen James Flowers, said: "As a fellow small business owner in the town, I would like to join the may others who have recently spoken out over the current state and rapid decline of the shopping areas in the town centre.
"A large part of my business is made up of impulse purchases from people passing by and being attracted to the exterior display, often bringing them inside to look further.
"However, as footfall decreases then these sales decrease making for very hard times.
"I also have a large regular customer base some of who like to pre-order for collection and others who want to quickly park outside and pop in to the shop to see and choose from the selection on display.
"They have no choice but to pay expensive parking charges or be hounded by the traffic wardens when in reality they are probably going to be 5/10 minutes.
"Given the amount of empty shops being left to rack and ruin in the town centre I think the council is being very shortsighted."
"Having spoken to many of our customers over the last few months the majority have said that it's the parking charges that put them off coming into town to shop, especially if it’s a quick trip to run couple of errands, pick up one or two things etc,
"I strongly believe that if Harrogate council redresses its parking terms/charges then it can only have a hugely positive effect on the town's currently declining numbers in visitors wishing to shop here, which in turn will help to rejuvenate areas with empty properties which in turn the council will then be able to collect business rates etc.
"I believe this is something which has recently happened in Morpeth to enormous success, maybe Harrogate Council should" look and learn".
Stephanie Owen, of Arkrights Hardware, said: "As far as I am concerned, since parking charges were introduced on Sundays my shop turnover has decreased by 40%.
"I am seriously having to consider closing now on a Sunday as a result of this, which is a shame as we have been open on this day for the past seven years.
"I did write to the council when the parking charges first came in as Commercial Street, which was always busy on a Sunday, is now desolate, I had no response."
Georgia Eckert, of Imagined Things bookshop, said: "We completely agree with Robert Ogden about the trinity of factors impacting trade in the town centre. It has been quiet for us lately, and it's worrying. "More shops small and large are closing, which doesn't look good for the town or make it an attractive place to shop and visit, which will ultimately impact tourism and all businesses that rely on tourism such as guest houses, cafes and bars as well as shops.
"Parking here is so expensive it is off-putting, and not comparable to other local towns - parking charges are so much cheaper in Knaresborough and Ripon for example and neighbouring cities have cheap options such as Park & Ride. We have none of that here.
"Even if parking were free for two hours and then charged it would encourage people to pop into town more frequently, and many would probably stay longer than the free hours too.
"Our high street is suffering terribly and the council isn't doing anything to help. We've been largely protected as a historic spa town from the decimation high streets have faced in other areas of the country, but the level of shops closing here is now increasing and we need help to improve things.
"The town centre is an ecosystem, more of it is dying and something must be done now. Free parking would be the easiest, highest impact action the council could take initially and immediately."
William E. Woods, of Woods of Harrogate Ltd, said: "I would like to say that as 'retail elders' we are very concerned about the decline of the High Street in Harrogate and we felt driven to do something positive to improve the situation -support from the local/county council we see as essential because there is none at the moment.
"We have had a very supportive conversation with the past leader of Northumbria CC who introduced ‘3 Hour Free Parking’ a year ago and it has made a huge difference especially in Morpeth & Alnwick, which are now thriving, so the evidence is there that it can be done! Retailers and restaurants have noticed increased footfall and increased turnover by over 25% in a year. That is remarkable.
"There was a similar scheme introduced in Newcastle, as a result of pressure from retailers to counteract the negative affect of shopping with free parking at the Metro Centre which had destroyed city centre shopping. A makeweight of free parking from 5-8pm in the centre was introduced and that too has boosted trade significantly although probably doesn’t help them enough either.
"All if not most are not convinced by the cycling event in September and are thinking of closing.
"Also there is a strong feeling that BID should better represent independents and point out that the present non elected board does not have any independent retailers on it - it’s vital that changes."