Businesses fight to preserve free parking in Midsomer Norton
Business leaders are campaigning to keep free shoppers' parking in Midsomer Norton in the face of plans to build on a key car park.
Midsomer Norton and Radstock Chamber of Commerce says it is vital that free parking continues in the town centre if a 45,000 sq ft supermarket is built on the 241-space South Road car park.
Chairman Ty Cook has warned that unless something is done soon to breathe new life into Midsomer Norton town centre, it could be left with dozens of empty shops.
It was announced last month that Bath and North East Somerset Council, which owns the car park, intends to sell it to a supermarket chain.
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The authority – with the support of the chamber – says this should encourage more people to shop in the town centre rather than travelling to out-of-town supermarkets.
Local businesses have questioned whether the free parking enjoyed by users of the car park will continue in an underground parking area which has been promised should the supermarket go ahead.
The chamber is surveying its members on the issue.
Mr Cook said: "As a chamber we have raised this with B&NES, who have asked us to carry out a parking survey to identify how many places in South Road car park are currently used on a daily basis by business.
"When it comes to customers, the research B&NES has already carried out shows that an average parking stay for customers is two to two-and-a-half hours. As a chamber we will be putting the case for any site operator to provide at least three hours free parking."
He added: "Let us make it clear that the chamber, and as we understand it retailers, are not anti-Tesco or anti-Sainsbury. We welcome either, or another major player, provided they work with and within the town."
Mr Cook, who owns Accredited Lettings which directly faces South Road car park, said the major concern for many High Street retailers was the impact of a new out-of-town Sainsbury's.
The firm has applied for planning permission to turn the CFH print factory into a 55,000 sq ft store.
Mr Cook said: "If the Sainsbury's store is built in Westfield, retailers have a real concern that customers will go there instead of coming to the High Street and there is of course no certainty that the existing Sainsbury's in the Hollies would remain open. Losing the town's anchor food store would have a huge impact."