SUNDERLAND City Council leader Paul Watson put himself on the spot this week, answering questions at an open meeting of the new City Centre Traders’ Association. Echo business writer KEVIN CLARK attended.
Asked about the possibility of introducing free parking in the city centre, Coun Watson said he was not in a position to promise anything.
He told a packed meeting at the Corner Flag in High Street West he did not have the power to dictate policy and added: “I’m absolutely certain you would not want a council where that happened.
“You would not want me saying ‘We will have free parking all day,’ and then the ramification of that is you lose £100,000 a year from council budgets and that impacts on the delivery of school meals or older people’s services.
“Where there is public money, the issues raised need to be fed through the council’s processes.
“What we have got to do is examine the implications, and see what are the ramifications.
“The needs of businesses had to be weighed against the need to keep the city centre’s streets clear.
“Everybody would like parking to be closer to their business or more convenient for customers,” said Coun Watson.
“At the end of the day, we have got to reach a balance.
“You just need to go down to Foyle Street or Frederick Street and see the double parking there. If it went unchecked and unenforced, that would be the result everywhere, so you need a regime.
“There is a big, big demand for parking in the city centre, not least from the offices.
“What we need to achieve is a parking regime that will both allow you access to your business and shops and allow your deliveries, while letting the public use the city centre.”
One promise he did make was that the council would listen to the traders: “I’m quite happy to say we don’t get it right all the time.
“What we need to do is use this opportunity so we can have that dialogue that we have not had before. You have got a vehicle now, through the traders’ association, to come to the council and your voice WILL absolutely be heard.
“For the first time, we have got an opportunity to speak to each other and put these things right.”