Saturday, 19 April 2014

No more shafting in Shaftesbury Road car park

With JD Wetherspoon's new beer garden sprouting up this Spring, a nasty trap for drivers in Whitstable has been literally buried beneath the earth.
You'll remember that several motorists complained that they were being 'shafted' in Shaftesbury Road car park. In each case, they had diligently paid for a ticket, returned to the car within their allotted timespan, and been astounded to find a penalty charge notice awaiting them.
The problem was that, rather than being one council-run car park as could have been easily assumed from the large notices, the area was in fact invisibly divided into three: two council areas sandwich a piece of land owned by Wetherspoon's (behind its Peter Cushing pub) which has been operated over the last two or three years as a general car park with its own pay machine.
Time and again, people who left their cars on the council land were using the 'wrong' machine, then being penalised for 'failing' to pay. One annoyed motorist set up a blog to vent his frustration and, as you can see from the comments, several others recounted similar experiences.
In December, Peter Smythe from Herne Bay learned that his legal appeal against a £50 fine had been won when - as the Whitstable Times reported - Canterbury City Council backed down and accepted that the situation was 'confusing'.
Now Spoon's have solved the problem by constructing their long-planned beer garden on half of their car park, and appear to intend the rest of the land to be for staff cars (see photos). The beer garden is behind the new fence.

This solution has been a long time coming because of rights of way issues. There is an established footpath along the back of the Peter Cushing building which neighbours pointed out would be swallowed up by the pub garden. This threatened to delay the pub opening in 2011 and so the outdoor seating plan was temporarily withdrawn and replaced with the car park. Later, the pub chain reiterated its desire for outdoor seating and a certificate of lawful usage was granted by CCC more than a year ago (planning permission being deemed to be not necessary).

Hopefully drinkers, motorists and residents will now be happy.

The downside is that the loss of any general parking spaces is something Whitstable can ill afford. Park and ride, anyone?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Never on a Sunday: strictly no parking

Every year, as the outside temperature rises, so transport in Whitstable becomes a hot topic.

The debate has started earlier than usual, with unexpectedly warm weekends drawing in the day-trippers and coinciding with an initiative by a resident to set up a '1 way for Whit' Facebook campaign. Also, a new draft local transport strategy has just been published (perhaps best explained from a Whitstable viewpoint by Councillor Neil Baker here) and which has led to local debate about a possible park-and-ride scheme.

But what's slipped under the radar (a bit of a shock to some unwary locals) is the sudden implementation of a seven-days-a-week parking ban in the town centre over the last few days.

Plaques like this one outside St Alphege Church were attached to High Street lamp-posts at the start of last week. They signal two key changes:
  • 'no parking' now applies also on SUNDAYS
  • loading times are restricted to less busy times of day
The lack of warning to local people about the change coming in is a bit regrettable. I know that one regular churchgoer, after parking in his usual place, came out of the early Sunday service in St Alphege today to find a penalty charge notice adorning his windscreen.

I really hope, though, that these simple limitations will go some way to easing bottlenecks at peak times so that we don't need a one-way system which sends traffic including lorries and buses along unsuitable residential roads.

Of course, though, they won't work unless enforced. We've long had parking restrictions in Whitstable town centre, but most of us knew we could get away with a few minutes in a loading bay or on a double yellow because there just weren't enough 'enforcers' to cover Whitstable and Herne Bay. 

As the driver attending church painfully found out - not any longer. Canterbury City Council has been recruiting more staff in a renewed effort to crack down on illegal parking, so we may actually see a real difference.

But while visitors from now on might have less trouble actually getting into Whitstable, they'll still have to face the almighty obstacle race of going round and round inadequate car parks chasing elusive spaces. Let's hope, for businesses' sake, with our new streamlined High Street they don't find it all too easy to turn round and go home.