High Streets are what bring our communities together. Whether its Redcar, Eston, Guisborough, or any other community in Redcar & Cleveland, its our High Streets and their businesses that bind our communities together.
As Conservatives, we've ensured High Streets are at the very core of our Levelling Up agenda. The small businesses that occupy them create jobs and drive economic growth locally. They're places that bring people together, and so importantly, bustling High Streets deliver pride in place. Their importance is why this Government is so dedicated to restoring High Streets which have seen better days; in our area alone, we're delivering £8 million for Eston Square, £15 million for Guisborough, £9 million for Loftus, and a £25 million Town Deal for Redcar.
Sadly, the Labour Party here in Redcar & Cleveland doesn't seem to understand how important our High Streets are. Just weeks ago, we requested that Labour-run Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council (RCBC) consider continuing free parking on our High Streets in Guisborough & Redcar. This free parking scheme, introduced in Redcar before the COVID 19 pandemic, has been hugely successful in ensuring visitor numbers have increased to both these towns. This has been a huge help to local businesses. Post-pandemic, the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) gave all five Tees Valley local authorities temporary funding to help with these schemes, even though the TVCA isn't responsible for RCBC car parks.
Now this funding has ended, it is Labour-run RCBC's decision whether they continue free parking in their car parks, or re-introduce car parking charges. Sadly, so far they've been unwilling to take responsibility for making this decision, instead passing the buck to the TVCA and trying to claim to concerned residents and business owners that its Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen's (who has no involvement in instating parking fees) fault that the fees are being introduced.
Ensuring the prosperity of our High Streets shouldn't be a political game, it should be something all party's can agree on and strive towards. Labour argue that the Council's financial situation obliges them to reinstate fees - that they absolutely cannot afford to go without the £200,000* instating parking fees would generate. The truth is, to reinstate fees is short sighted and will directly impact small businesses. If the Council wants to improve its financial situation, it should absolutely be supporting free parking, to ensure that small businesses on our High Streets can continue topping up the Councils coffers by paying business rates, and that new businesses are incentivised to open.
Labour have a real opportunity here. For years, Labour administrations in Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough have been renowned locally for short-sighted decision making and doing little more than overseeing managed decline. This new Labour administration can start to set their record straight here by backing motorists, backing small businesses, and make the economically sound decision to not reinstate fees on our High Streets.
Or, they can continue business as usual, which I suspect may be the case.
Councillor Curt Pugh
Normanby Ward - Redcar & Cleveland