Conwy ‘ghost town’ comparisons lead to petition calling for free parking offer
A coffee shop owner says Conwy has become “like a ghost town” after the latest lockdown and wants council help to entice locals back there in greater numbers.
Lisa Walker and partner Gareth Lavin have owned L’s Coffee and Book Shop on Conwy’s High Street for 10 years and are calling for free parking to encourage shoppers to venture out.
After a bumper August, when holidaymakers descended on the historic walled town, Miss Walker says the new lockdown has made it feel like it’s “January or February” – traditionally the quietest times of the year.
Conwy county councillor Aaron Wynne, who represents Llanrwst ward, has taken up the free car parking baton for businesses who told him they are struggling.
He’s started a petition and written to the council’s leader Cllr Sam Rowlands, asking for free parking to kick-start the local economy as has been done in neighbouring Gwynedd and in Ceredigion.
Miss Walker said business is probably two-thirds what it normally would be, at best, and says she is running at break-even, because she feels a duty to her 12 staff at the Conwy premises and another in Llandudno Junction.
She said: “With the local lockdown we’ve had a massive drop in customers and all the businesses in Conwy are struggling.
“We are just trying to get free car parking to encourage people to come here.
“We are just asking for two or three hours so they can do a Christmas shop for example – so every business in Conwy will get something.”
At the moment, people coming into Conwy can get up to an hour’s parking free but, for older clientele, Miss Walker says it’s not enough.
She said: “One hour, even if you’re going to the hairdressers, is not enough.
“I don’t think it will make the parking situation worse giving free parking for two or three hours.
“It would be a massive help from Conwy county council.”
She said the overwhelming responsibility she and her partner felt was retaining the jobs of those they employ.
However she remains optimistic the town will come through the hard times and the business has diversified by doing takeaway orders to boost takings.
Mother-of two Miss Walker said: “Hopefully we will come out the other side and we will have a business, and people will have jobs to come back to.
“A lot of business owners are getting frustrated. A lot have shut.
“We are all doing just as much as we can do, but the town looks like it would in January or February – it’s like a ghost town.”
Cllr Wynne said: “It’s time for the council to put our council tax money to good use and protect the independent businesses that are the backbone of the Conwy economy.
“A simple measure like free parking has proven to be a relatively inexpensive way of encouraging people into our town centre shops.
“The situation we are facing into is grim. I fear that, without a good run-up to Christmas, many businesses might not survive the New Year.
“This would mean our towns losing a lot of their unique character and that would have a knock on impact on the tourism industry in the long term.”
Cllr Greg Robbins, cabinet member for environment and transportation, said there were “no plans” to institute free parking but the council was willing to “consider any requests”.
He added: “There is a mix of parking options available in the majority of our town centres.
“These include free, short stay on-street parking bays, as well as pay and display car parks for longer stays.
“We believe that this gives the right balance of parking options in town centres.
“Previous trials we’ve carried out showed that when free parking was provided, car parks tended to fill up with cars that stayed all day (usually town centre workers), which reduced the spaces available for shoppers.”
By Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter
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