I always find your fortnightly update very interesting and informative.
The matter of the Portland Street car park in the latest edition caught my eye for one very good reason.
During my 36 years as a borough councillor, I tried repeatedly, with the help of Cllr Malcolm Stennett, to get the Lib/Dem administration to seriously consider underground parking where their locally owned car parks were concerned.
As you are no doubt aware, we are becoming subsumed by on-street parking; and the cost of parking in the town is exorbitant, to say the least.
My argument was that if we provided underground car-parking on the Portland Street site (as an example), it would free-up the land above for residential development (hopefully, a mirror-image of what is on the other side of the road), and it would help to reduce the problem of too much on-street parking.
The years of revenue would soon repay with interest the initial investment that would need to be provided.
The process could be repeated at any or all of the council-owned car-parks.
When we suggested at planning meetings that all large-scale commercial applications should only be approved providing underground parking was included, we were met with tales of woe from the Lib/Dem councillors on behalf of the applicant, mainly regarding the cost of inclusion, which, as I pointed out, was not a planning consideration.
I had the same sort of nonsense when the initial ‘digging out’ of the new GCHQ building was in hand.
I had a meeting with a couple of the top GCHQ officials. They were sympathetic to my suggestion that they included underground car parking whilst the digging equipment was on-site. They also told me of their concerns regarding the intending decanting of the Oakley site, which they predicted would require the Benhall site to provide up to 1800 surface car park spaces.
They promised to write to Robin Cook the then Foreign Secretary, which they did, who turned down the suggestion on grounds of cost. How short-sighted?
Think of how many homes could have been provided where there are now cars. And the current parking problems experienced by residents living in the Fiddlers Green area would not have happened.
Finally, if you think my ideas are ridiculous, visit places like Barcelona, Scandinavia or even as far as Australia (where there is ample space), they still prefer to have car-parking underground.
Why are we so slow in following the ‘crowd’? My guess is that eventually, we will wake up to what is needed, but only after significant damage has been done to the town and the countryside at large.
When it happens, and it will, you can bet your life that the Lib/Dems will claim credit for coming up with a much-needed idea. Mark my words.
All the best.
Just a note to let you know that I fully support the views expressed by Les Godwin in the email he sent to you earlier today.
I would go a little further than Les to say that, a few years ago when the tennis courts at Montpellier were being upgraded, I made the suggestion that it would be great opportunity to consider putting an underground car park at this location to enable persons coming into town from the Gloucester direction to park within a short walk of the town centre. The idea was supported by some of your colleagues but derided by the LD administration.
By having significant underground parking at both Montpellier and Portland Street, for preference served by a continuous shuttle bus between the two locations, the volume of traffic in the town centre would have been considerably reduced and possibly prevented the need to close Boots Corner which clearly is going to cause massive disruption across the town.
A sorry lack of vision.
Cllr. Malcolm Stennett,
PAB Group Leader.
Letter of support from the member of Parliament for Cheltenham, Alex Chalk M.P.
Many thanks for your emails. I hope you will forgive me for responding to you both in the same email.
I ENTIRELY agree. I think that if Les’ suggestion had been taken up in relation to GCHQ it would have been enormously beneficial to the local community. And I can’t believe it would have been prohibitively expensive in all the circumstances.
I think similar considerations apply on the Portland St site, and Les is absolutely right to reference the cost of parking. Cheltenham is now far and away the most expensive place to park in Glos. That’s very unwise for a shopping town that should be straining every sinew to attract visitors – in the Internet age more than ever.
Re the lack of vision, I think I’ve been pretty voluble about that!
Many thanks for troubling to email. Thank you too for your (distinguished) service, past and current, to public life in Cheltenham.
I would like to add my full support to the letters addressed to Alex Chalk MP by Les Godwin and Cllr Malcolm Stennett, highlighting the need for underground parking in Cheltenham.
Underground parking would not only release land for development, but would also provide a degree of security in combating vehicle crime.
Portland Street is surely an ideal site for such a project. An underground walkway from the park to the Brewery would provide quick and easy access to the town and amenities.
From a futuristic point of view, I would even suggest that Portland Street be reinstated as a bus and coach terminal.
Currently, our showpiece Promenade is littered with buses and taxis. The taxis could surely be accommodated at Royal Well after buses and coaches are relocated at Portland Street. If necessary a bus shuttle service could be provided from Royal Well to Portland Street, for those in need.
We need to continue to attract visitors to our town to support businesses and the excellent festivals held each year.
With the ever increasing population and need for affordable housing, this must surely be the time for the Borough Council to forward plan to meet these demands, and at the same time protect our green belt for future generations.
Underground parking could mark the start.