Results of consultations on parking charges at theatre car park reviewed by Cabinet

East Devon councillors have again considered a proposal to open Sidmouth’s Manor Pavilion car park as a pay and display public car park, which would be managed on a daily basis by the council’s Car Parks Service.

At a meeting of East Devon District Council’s Cabinet held yesterday (6 September 2017), councillors listened to the findings of a report covering the results of public and statutory consultations undertaken during June/July 2017, and reconfirmed their decision made earlier this year (on 5 April 2017) that public pay and display parking should be offered in Sidmouth’s Manor Pavilion car park.

The issue of whether to turn the Manor Pavilion Theatre car park into a pay and display amenity was previously also debated by the council’s Scrutiny Committee on 9 May 2017, who recommended that:

1. The Manor Pavilion Car Park fee paying charges only apply up to 6pm
2. Endorse the maximum stay for the car park for four hours
3. Officers are reminded that there must be early consultation with the local ward member(s) and the relevant town or parish council for any significant service change that affects a local community.

The minutes from this meeting were subsequently reported to councillors at a Cabinet meeting on 14 June 2017, where Scrutiny members were reassured that there would be a statutory consultation period on the parking places order and that comments made would be taken into account, including the debate at Cabinet.

The Council’s Strategic Lead for Governance and Licensing wrote to all ward members and other statutory consultees on 6 June 2017 setting out the proposals in detail.  On 7 July 2017 the proposals were advertised in the Sidmouth Herald and laminated notices were displayed on site throughout the statutory consultation period ending on 28 July 2017. 

In addition to the statutory consultation process, the council invited the public to give their views on the proposal via an on-line questionnaire.

The council received seven formal objections to its proposals and 17 responses to its questionnaire.
The statutory objections all included issues and arguments that had already been comprehensively debated and have not altered the findings and recommendations of the report that was considered by Cabinet in April. 

The online questionnaire results have also been be reviewed. Seven of the respondents stated that they were in favour of our proposals. Ten people said they were against the proposals and the majority of those were citing arguments that had already been addressed in the report to Cabinet in April. 

A few new arguments were raised and these have been evaluated and addressed in the report considered by councillors at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.  However, the findings and recommendations of the report remain unchanged.

Cllr Tom Wright, East Devon’s portfolio holder for the environment commented on the decision, saying:

This has been a long process, beginning in October 2012 when officers presented a review of off-street car parks to councillors, which advised that both Sidmouth Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce recognise that the Manor Pavilion Theatre car park is currently misused and would be in support of creating additional public car parking with a double ticketing arrangement put in place for Pavilion customers. We have consistently reassured users of the arts centre that they will be able to pull in to load and unload easels and other heavy items. Long stay parking is available  just five minutes away in our Manor Road car park and regular users can buy an annual permit that will allow them to park there without time constraints for the equivalent of just £2.58 per week. 

 Since that time officers have worked hard with the theatre’s management to understand the business and to find a way to maximise this car parking asset to the benefit of both the town and the theatre. The statutory consultation and public consultation exercises have not produced any new evidence to persuade me to change my mind.  This is a valuable parking asset for the town and is nowhere near big enough to serve Manor Pavilion theatre and arts centre adequately. There are just 21 spaces in the car park and the theatre can seat 277 people so there are already alternatives that are used by audiences if people don’t want to or can’t park in the car park next to the theatre. 

This car park will be well used by Sidmouth’s residents and visitors as a useful addition to our public car park portfolio and the revenue it will generate will, in turn, help to secure the future of the theatre and arts centre. 

Finally, despite the recommendation of scrutiny committee to the contrary, the proposal remains that the charging hours of the car park will be from 8am to 8pm (not 6pm as was originally proposed) in order to ensure that  the turnover of spaces continues. This will increase the chances of some theatre customers finding parking here at around 7pm if they so wish. This is because we expect the car park to become popular with local residents and their visitors during its free overnight period and we feel that it would be a mistake to offer them that facility prior to the start time of the theatre’s evening productions.

It is normal to pay to park in theatre car parks across the country – these fees contribute vital funds towards the running costs of the theatres and help ensure their continued existence.