(Cllr. S.Rahaman and Cllr. N.Hunt re-affirmed their interest at this point and withdrew from the meeting)
Members were presented with a report which set out proposals to provide free town centre car parking within Neath Port Talbot during the month of August 2021.
Officers were asked to provide confirmation on how the fees would be funded. It was confirmed that the fees would be reimbursed from the Councils existing budget or reserves.
It was queried whether there was a way to monitor the impact of the use of car parks during this period and a way to capture any feedback from businesses. Officers stated that they would need to compare pre Covid data, and the current year’s data for the first quarter, and monitor the monthly income that was received from each car park across the County Borough; this would be the most efficient way to do this, as carrying out surveys on the ground would require a large resource. It was suggested that after the Christmas period, a report be presented to Members to show some trends in how the scheme performed in terms of its income.
It was agreed that the Head of Transport and Engineering would liaise with colleagues in the Regeneration Team, specifically the Town Centre Managers, to identify a way to obtain feedback from the town centre businesses.
A discussion took place in relation to the pilot project on free town centre parking that Welsh Government agreed to a few years ago; Members asked if there was any information available on the outcome of that pilot and the prospects of it being rolled out more consistently. Officers stated that not all Authorities participated in this initiative; Neath Port Talbot Council had some experience from what offers the Council had introduced, and at the time that was linked with the former Neath Business Improvement District (BID). It was mentioned that they introduced footfall counters and had dialogue with the businesses to identify how those initiatives worked, and the Council received some initial feedback from that. Historically, it was noted that Neath Port Talbot Council had always offered free Christmas parking; before the pandemic, Officers received some evidence from the Aberavon Shopping Centre Manager which indicted an 11% increase in footfall at that time. Officers added that it was very difficult for the Council to make a clear statement around what factual difference it made to the high street and prosperity. Members were informed of the Portas Review that was carried out, and from that a number of studies were undertaken about the re-thinking of parking on the high street; town centres have suffered pre-pandemic and even more so now, as a result of the pandemic. It was stated that car parking was a key aspect that affected how a town centre performed and was very much at the forefront of it; however, parking income was only one aspect of the issue, there were serval others which the Recover, Reset, Renew agenda will consider going forward, as part of the town centre recovery. Officers hoped that this initiative will help aid the recovery of the town centre for the short period, before making further assessments going forward; there was a lot more work to be carried out around this subject matter.
The circulated report referred to the free bus scheme in Swansea; Members hoped to obtain information on the outcome of this scheme and were disappointed that there wasn’t co-ordination on a possible joint scheme between Neath Port Talbot and Swansea. It was stated that although the Neath Port Talbot Council worked very closely regionally with colleagues across the bus sector, it was unknown to the Council that Swansea were proposing the scheme; Officers would be asking colleagues in the City and County of Swansea if they could share the concessionary impacts of footfall on those services. Members were informed that Welsh Government and Transport for Wales had viewed the press statements and have shown an interest to identify how that scheme worked going forward; there was a commitment on the City and County of Swansea to share that information through the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers (ATCO) which will enable the Council to have access to their success stories or otherwise. Officers added that when considering the wider review that was taking place, it was important to note that bus services in some areas of the community was currently lacking which was an issue that would continue to be looked into.
It was mentioned that some Elected Members and Council staff paid yearly fees for parking as part of the permit scheme; Members asked if any money would be reimbursed to those individuals for the free months made available as part of the initiative. Officers stated that it would be a small amount in terms of providing a monthly rebate, so instead the Council would be adding an extra month onto all permits so that there would be no detriment to them financially.
Members asked if there were any car parks excluded from the scheme. It was confirmed that the scheme only applied to the town centre pay and display car parks; the Country Park car parks and the Aberavon Seafront car parks weren’t included in the initiative. Officers added that there were a number of car parks across the County Borough that had no charges incurred and this would not be affected by the scheme either.
Following scrutiny, the Committee was supportive of the proposal to be considered by the Cabinet Board.
(Cllr. S.Rahaman and Cllr. N.Hunt re-joined the meeting from this point onwards)