Following last week’s story more business owners in Callington have spoken out about the negative effect the new parking charges are having on their trade.
Speak to anyone in Callington and you will hear the same comments – it’s dying, in danger of becoming a ghost town and, since May when Cornwall Council upped its car park tariffs, the cost of parking could prove the final nail in its coffin, writes Lee Trewhela.
In November the town’s final bank, Lloyds, shuts for good and one of the most popular shops on Fore Street is squarely blaming the parking increases for its impending closure in September, while others are fearing for their future and wonder if they’ll see the year out.
Callington’s once free first hour of parking has now increased to £1, with subsequent hourly charging going up, and Sunday charges being introduced for the first time too.
The parking controversy is exacerbated by a unique sore point in the town – when Co-op was based next to the New Road South car park, it subsidised the first hour’s parking so people could pop in and shop there and elsewhere free of charge. When Co-op left and B&M moved in they didn’t take up the offer (although local councillor Andrew Long is adamant the chain store said it would honour the agreement). The rise in charges on top of the loss of that free hour has worsened the feeling of unfairness in the town.
There’s another problem now – people are so against paying the increased prices, they’re starting to use a free park earmarked solely for customers of three shops in the town, which is pushing those who want to buy a wedding suit or get a picture framed on to surrounding streets. So parking on double yellow lines and in dangerous spots is not uncommon.
Many are blaming those controversial hikes in parking tariffs – more than one person told me “It’s killing Callington”. Even the man responsible for overseeing the tariff changes (until this week’s slight reshuffle of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet) says Callington has seen one of the most dramatic falls in usage in the whole of the Duchy, when car park usage is apparently increasing month on month elsewhere.
The Victoria Eyton card, party supplies and gift shop is closing on September 30. A sign in its window also urges people to make their feelings known to the council and was written before the final, sad decision was made to shut up shop.
Tricia Stephenson, who runs the shop with her daughter Victoria, said she has voted Conservative for 49 years but “no more”, so angry is she with the effects of the parking tariffs introduced by the Tory-run council.
She said: “People were coming in and saying they weren’t going to visit Callington anymore once the parking prices went up. I didn’t believe them, but it’s exactly what’s happened. Takings dropped by 25 to 30 per cent in the first month. When the bank next door said it was shutting, that was it then.”
On nearby New Road – right opposite the long stay car park next to the B&M store – sits Dogsbodies pet shop, run by Andy and Vicki Brett who have certainly noticed the effect.
Vicki said: “A lot of people who would pop in to us for ten minutes don’t want to pay £1. It’s put people off coming in to do a quick shop.
“It’s one thing after another. We’re just trying to survive.”
A loyalty scheme has kept a lot of their cherished customers coming back, but they have noticed some haven’t returned. “Everybody I’ve spoken to says the same thing – it’s killing Callington. We need all the support we can get in a market town like this.”
Vicki has messaged Cllr Donnithorne several times with her concerns. “Connor’s very welcome to come here and see what it’s like,” she added, stressing that even half an hour’s free parking would improve things.
Just around the corner on Biscombes Lane is Chlo’s Beauty Corner run by Chloe Harrison and Ella Brown. Ella told me: “I used to pay £33 a month to park. Now it’s £57. I’m refusing to pay it. A lot of people are emailing the council in disgust.”
The Cornish Bakery has been based on Fore Street for years but owner Denise is seriously worried about its future. She was going to open a café in the town this year but decided against it due to the lack of trade.
Denise moved to the town two years ago because of the sense of community but she feels the current situation will kill it off.
“The town was bringing itself back up after Covid but all of a sudden places are closing. There was a beautiful gift shop called Mariposa down the road but that closed due to personal reasons, but I fear it will stand empty now. Callington is really struggling and it’s a real shame. After the summer, I’m really scared for this place.”
Another bakery and food outlet on the other side of town, Proper Jobs, is run by Jackie Pinhey, who said: “It’s dead as a doornail – the town is definitely quieter since the parking went up. It’s not so bad here as people stop outside and take a chance to pop in.
Just down the road are the three businesses which share a free car park for customers – Colin’s of Callington which sells bridal and menswear as well as homeware, Trewartha’s hardware store and Framin’ Crafty (good name that).
They were forced to issue a warning on Facebook recently: “We understand that everyone is struggling with the frustrating parking situation. However, for a while now we have noticed an influx of people using our free customer-only car park to their own advantage, whilst not bothering to acknowledge our shops.
“We have had cars left for hours at a time, blocking people in and parking lengthways taking up multiple spaces – whilst people get their hair done, go to the pub or shop in town, all whilst ignoring us.”
Beth Boulton, assistant manager at Colin’s, said it was “very frustrating” as there is a 3ft by 2ft sign on the entrance pointing out that it’s only for customers. Jenny Cawse, who runs the craft and picture framing shop and is bucking the trend and thriving, added: “We are trying our hardest to keep Callington alive – I have people come in who say they didn’t know they could get so much in the town. As soon as people say Callington’s not worth it, word gets around … but it is worth it!”
Another business which is doing okay and proves Callington can be as cool as parts of Plymouth, the city it acts as a commuter town for, is Lost Surfers Cocktail Café run by Melvin and Sue Symmons, who do the opposite commute from Plymouth. However, even they’ve noticed that footfall has dropped right off.
Cllr Andrew Long, who is the Mebyon Kernow member for Callington and St Dominic, has been working with traders and the town council to organise a desperate fight back following the decision by Cornwall Council to introduce the new charges in the town’s two main New Road car parks.
He told me earlier this year: “The final nail in the coffin was that B&M gave an agreement – and I’ve got the emails to prove it – to take on the paying of the first hour charge which is what Co-op did before them. It was effectively one-hour free parking.
“The council officer never followed it through to its conclusion. I was told ‘we’ll take it from here’. Well they took it from there and did sod all with it. Even more frustrating, for the next four years we still had the one-hour free parking. None of us knew that they didn’t have the agreement with B&M – the council just sucked up the price. And now we are having to pay that hour charge.”
Cllr Long argued that even charging £1 for an hour’s parking will have a detrimental effect on the town he represents. “Callington is a short stay place. We haven’t got a massive town centre, so you can easily get through what you need to do in an hour.”
As he prepared to step away from his role as head of transport at Cornwall Council to become portfolio holder for customers, Cllr Donnithorne said: “No decision that I have made has taken away free parking for an hour in Callington.
“It is because B&M have not wanted to carry the arrangement on. It was Co-op who sold or leased to B&M. Cornwall Council officers over many years have reached out to B&M to ask them if they want to continue that subsidy arrangement. I’ve been clear, if it means helping I would have been prepared for Cornwall Council to come to some kind of arrangement with B&M but B&M are not interested and don’t respond to officer engagement, so it is not as a result of this parking tariff that they have lost their free hour.
“Callington has seen the drop in usage because there was that particular arrangement in place. I am genuinely happy to do whatever I can to sort that out, but then we can’t subsidise one car park for a free hour because every other car park would rightly say, what about us? And then we don’t have a £1.5m (parking budget) shortfall, we have a £5m shortfall.”
Whoever’s to blame, I suggest visiting Callington, paying that £1 for an hour’s parking – or preferably more – and supporting this lovely Cornish town. We need to show solidarity with its businesses and residents before it really does become the ghost town many fear.