‘We have lost an awful lot of parking space’: Businesses owners’ concerns over closure of town hall car park

Date published: 16 June 2021

Business owners are concerned the loss of Rochdale Town Hall car park could be putting people off visiting the town.

The 181-space car park has been closed since January 2020, when renovation of the Grade-I listed town hall – described as a ‘neo-gothic masterpiece’ – got underway.

It is set to reopen in 2023 with the surrounding area transformed into a new public square, providing a relaxing space for visitors.

More than 1,000 parking spaces remain across the town centre area – including 800 council-operated bays offering three hours' free parking.

Greg Couzens – who has run a hairdressing salon on The Walk for 30 years – says he welcomes the ‘fantastic’ revamp of the town hall.

But the former vice-chair of Rochdale High Street Foundation says the loss of the car park has created a problem for town centre businesses.

He said: “We have lost all the parking at the town hall and, with The Wheatsheaf closing, a lot of staff from Riverside used to park at The Wheatsheaf, that has now been spread to The Exchange. 

“But it’s almost like we have not made any provision for losing Town Hall Square – that will be a permanent issue.

“So many customers of mine come in from out of town and see signs to go and park at The Exchange – but they have no idea how to get there.”

He added: “They are coming in late saying they could not find anywhere to park. If you are from Rochdale, you know what’s going on. 

“But all the signposting is ‘there’s no parking at the town hall, make alternative arrangements’. That’s fine if you are from Rochdale, but what about if you are not?”

And he worries that visitors could end up with frustrated visitors ‘essentially turning around and going home’ if they can’t find somewhere to park.

He is now calling on council officials to sit down with businesses to come up with a long-term solution.

“Maybe we need signposting towards the Exchange and long-term we need to look at more provision – we have lost an awful lot of parking space,” he said.

“I just think we really need to sit down and get around a table and look at what provision we have and look at the long-term effect. There doesn’t seem to be any long term planning.”

Philip Buckley, who runs Buckley Menswear, on South Parade, shares many of Mr Couzens’ concerns.

“It’s a problem, he said.

“Every single customer that comes in complains about the parking. We are all used to parking at Town Hall Square – if you want to come into town, you park there.”

And while he appreciates the council is trying to improve the town centre, he questions whether the renovation could wait.

“I’m not sure it’s the right time to do it, we are trying to get things going again,” he said.

“A customer who comes in who is used to parking there will have a right whinge about it. It makes them think twice – can they be bothered coming to Rochdale and parking up?

“It’s a great convenience for people parking there.”

For Mr Buckley taking the car park out of use seems to be ‘a big waste of space’.

“I say bring people in and show people what we have got – we have the best town centre in the world,” he said.

“Three hours free parking is great but has just shut down the biggest and most convenient car park in the town centre.

“We have got more parking than most other town centres but it’s where our people are used to parking – I suppose it’s about creating new habits.”

And he also worries about the impact it could have on the town centre as a whole – particularly if footfall no longer makes it worthwhile for high street banks to maintain a presence there.

“If people stop using them, what happens to all the beautiful buildings? That’s the bigger picture,” he added.

Councillor Daniel Meredith, cabinet member for highways and housing, has responded to the concerns.

He said: “The Rochdale Town Hall restoration forms part of our pioneering £400m regeneration scheme for the town centre. These ambitious plans will boost the local economy, attract thousands of new visitors to the borough and increase trade for businesses and hospitality. 

“There has been some loss of car parking space in the immediate vicinity of the town hall, and we’ve fully engaged with relevant groups about our plans. 

“Over 1,000 parking spaces are still available across the town centre, which includes three hours free parking at council bays. This area is also extremely well served by public transport, offering easy access for visitors by tram, bus and train.”

Councillor Meredith added: “I’m proud of our investment plans, which are incredibly exciting and will provide a timely boost for our town centre footfall, create more jobs, increase the number of electric vehicle charging points and give the local economy a welcome shot in the arm.”

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporting Service

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