Call for delay for council's controversial Leamington HQ plan

CGI of Warwick District Council's planned new HQ.
CGI of Warwick District Council's planned new HQ.

BID Leamington and the Royal Leamington Spa Chamber of Trade are calling on Warwick District Council (WDC) to delay the redevelopment of Covent Garden Car Park for one year amid growing concerns about the impact on parking in the town centre.

Representatives say they recognise the need to renew the multi-storey car park and have spent many months assisting WDC with the development of its displacement parking plan.

Covent Garden

Covent Garden

Whilst they welcome WDC’s recent commitment to not close car parks until its displacement parking plan is finalised, they are concerned that it may still be difficult to ensure adequate measures are in place for when Covent Garden is shut in March 2019.

They are therefore requesting that the scheme is delayed for one year to allow time for WDC’s displacement parking plan to be fully implemented, together with a robust communications plan.

They are also mindful that any delay must not compromise the commitment that has been made by WDC to ensure the redevelopment of Covent Garden does not go over two Christmas trade periods so are also seeking reassurances on this.

Covent Garden Car Park is due to be closed for an estimated 18 months whilst the site is redeveloped for new offices for WDC, new apartments and a new multi-storey car park.

The joint call by BID Leamington and Leamington Chamber of Trade is being made after WDC announced that it is deferring a final decision on the HQ relocation project until February 2019.

WDC said this would mean that Covent Garden is more likely to close in March 2019, which it believes would allow time to ensure work at the new car parks have been completed and alternative parking options have been communicated.

In a letter sent by Leamington Chamber of Trade to WDC shortly before WDC announced deferring a final decision until February, it asked for a delay until January 2020.

Julie McGarrigle, chair of Leamington Chamber of Trade, said “The removal of 468 town centre parking spaces at this time, without providing easy and convenient alternative parking, may jeopardise the future of town centre businesses at a time when trading conditions are already incredibly difficult.”

An independent review of WDC’s displacement parking plan to accommodate users of Covent Garden during the closure has also recently reported its findings.

The review was conducted by a specialist parking consultancy jointly appointed by WDC and BID Leamington.

The report says there is insufficient existing capacity in the town centre to accommodate the displaced parking from Covent Garden, which demonstrates the “critical importance” of implementing a displacement plan.

Its analysis of WDC’s proposed plan, which includes new and existing availability, found that due to the location of new spaces and an imbalance in weekday provision, that there was a shortfall in weekday long stay parking, which could impact local staff. There was also a shortfall in short stay parking, that is in closer proximity to the town centre, for visitors on Saturdays.

It also highlighted issues related to the location of new spaces, which has resulted in a total of 29 recommendations for WDC to consider. This includes news spaces as well as signage, communications, marketing and further measures to provide additional parking for seasonal peaks and events.

Stephanie Kerr, executive director of BID Leamington, said: “We welcome Warwick District Council’s commitment to not close car parks until its displacement parking plan is finalised, however it also needs to be implemented.

“The report has now put forward a number of suggestions to improve Warwick District Council’s displacement parking plan, although as set out in the recent WDC Executive Report, some have already been discounted and there is more work to do.

“Many of those suggestions require further research and consultation and in some cases, planning permission and a comprehensive communications strategy is needed to enable delivery. There are also other challenges, which will likely require innovative, creative approaches and the support of the wider community, to overcome.

“With this in mind, we believe it would be prudent for Warwick District Council to consider our request to delay the closure until January 2020 as we feel this would give Warwick District Council the opportunity to resolve critical issues, open new car parks including Station Approach which is due in November 2019, and may also allow time for other parts of the scheme to be reviewed if necessary.”