Town centre trials
I have to be careful because we’re lucky enough to have off-street parking. However, the town is encircled by car parks and streets without parking restrictions. We’ve found it straightforward to get reasonably priced permits for friends when they’ve turned up. Yes, from a newcomer’s perspective there seems to be adequate – even ample – parking for Berwick’s current situation.
Admittedly, our arrival in Berwick is post town-centre and on-the-bridge parking, and it must be wearing not to park outside your front door. But relative walking distances are small. I have heard it mooted that some would rather have a coffee out at the retail park in Tweedmouth at M&S than come into Berwick because of the parking. I just don’t get it. Are we going to be campaigning for Park & Ride next? Controlled Parking Zones? Please, no! I’ve experienced the latter and, trust me, it’s just an additional road tax – in London it cost £100 to park outside our own house for the year, add £130 for a second car (up to £200 for larger cars).
Parking enforcement in Berwick is positively friendly. In London I was slammed with a £60 fine for having one wheel very slightly on the edge of the pavement. It would have been £120 if I’d missed the half-price payment deadline. £120! In Berwick your car can kick around on a double yellow for an hour or so without having some jobsworth swoop; and you don’t get a gratuitous ticket if you run four minutes over time on pay and display.
Do parking issues stop people coming to Berwick? Well, out-of-town facilities are still being built despite the well-documented ‘doughnut effect’ – the lifeblood being sucked from town centres by outskirt developments. I guess the easy parking at such areas must reduce footfall and spending in the town. But are there other reasons?
In Berwick, there are some lovely cafes, great butchers and a variety of appealing galleries and niche shops tucked around. The Catch 22 is that the centre itself is not totally appealing. There, I’ve said it. It’s brilliant to have stores where we can make our pennies go further. But we also need more shops that stop – outlets that are different and exclusive to Berwick and its area. The ‘let’s find somewhere to park’ shops.
Recently we met an Edinburgh family who, after a day in the country, planned to explore Berwick. We later heard that Berwick looked so unalluring they’d driven on to Lindisfarne. Given that it’s difficult for anywhere to look charming on a grey, wet afternoon – even with welcoming bunting and festive flowers – a more mixed and vibrant high street would potentially attract more passing trade and lure people in from outlying areas. And that’s a bigger challenge. Berwick is not the only northern town to be suffering from the impact of financial downturn – and slightly lacklustre town centres is sadly a common feature. But we do have the intrinsic advantage of great historic features and a brilliant location. So whilst talk of facelifts for car parks is positive, perhaps we should take a long, hard look at how we give the high street a facelift and attract some more buzzy boutique shops and cafes to jostle companionably alongside what we already have.
Then maybe we will have a serious parking problem – and maybe we’ll be delighted to wrestle with ways of solving it.
(This article was first published on 7th July 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser www.berwick-advertiser.co.uk)