A CHESTER businessman claims over-zealous traffic wardens are ‘destroying’ Chester city centre.
Alan Sharp, who runs the Watergate Street Gallery on Watergate Street, hit out at Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) traffic wardens after they gave a ticket to a customer collecting paintings from the gallery.
The couple pulled up at 4.50pm - after parking restrictions are lifted and loading is allowed - to pick up two paintings but a traffic warden issued them with a ticket for the nine-minute stop as there was ‘no activity of loading or unloading’.
Mr Sharp said his customers could hardly be expected to leave their car doors open while they were inside the gallery and described the decision to issue them with a ticket as “madness”.
He said: “You can’t just pick up a picture and walk out the door. You want to have a look at it and work out how it will fit in the car and so on.
“When they came into the shop, I said I’d go and keep an eye on their car but when I got out there, a traffic warden was already there.
“The ticket man said if there is no activity of loading or unloading, I’ve been instructed to give a ticket. But you can’t leave your car wide open and then walk into a shop because the contents would be gone. It’s madness.
“The sign says no waiting or loading between 10am and 4.30pm. Well they came at 4.50pm. They were only parked nine minutes before they got a ticket and I was arguing with him for five of those.”
CWaC argues the customers were paying for the paintings, therefore they were classed as ‘shopping’. Had the paintings been paid for in advance, the council said no ticket would have been issued.
Mr Sharp said: “They spent £900 on the paintings and then they get a ticket on top of that. It’s like a surcharge. We were furious so we’ll be paying it if the challenge is unsuccessful.
“All they are doing is destroying Chester. It’s getting to the stage where there’s no reason or logic to come to Chester as they are making it too uncomfortable to shop.
The internet is making inroads and of course the out-of-town shopping is too.
“We’ve 10 empty shops in this street and altogether there is a third of all shops in Chester empty and they are not helping.
“We’ll be a city of restaurants, bars and coffee outlets with no shops eventually.
“Most of our pictures are large and you need to park to pick them up. When you are spending a thousand pounds or more, you want to see it in the flesh.”
Mr Sharp believers the council needs to change its attitude to parking to encourage more retailers and shoppers back into the city centre.
He said: “Our shop is in a pedestrianised zone but that happened before the internet. Everything’s changed now. The internet has taken over and shops are under extreme pressure.
“The shops open at 9.30am and you are allowed to get in and unload and most deliveries are made by 10.30am but that was only done because of this pedestrianisation. The window of opportunity isn’t really long enough.
“They should open it up until 11am and extend delivery time to, say, 15 or 20 minutes to give people more time to unload.
“In the evening it should open at 4pm and be available for people to shop. Encourage shoppers or they won’t come back. Come back, park your car and buy.
“I’d rather have a busy street with activity, people coming in and shopping than an empty shop.”
Council spokesman Shirley Wingfield said the penalty charge was issued after the vehicle was observed for eight minutes with no loading activity.
She said: “The customer had apparently arrived at the shop and was paying for the pictures before taking them to the vehicle and was therefore shopping.
“If the customer had purchased earlier and stopped to load his paintings, no ticket would have been issued.
“This is because the car would have been there in a way which is acceptable within the traffic regulation order as the customer would have entered the shop and left straight away and placed the goods in the vehicle. This activity would have been seen by the officer, removing any need for the vehicle doors to be open.
“We’ve met with the proprietor of the shop and advised him of how the regulations work within the vicinity of his premises. We’ve also explained that if there is an issue with the restrictions in the area, how members of the public can request a review.
“There are plenty of 30 minute bays both in Weaver Street and in Commonhall Street which is a maximum of two minutes’ walk away. There are also public car parks in the vicinity including the market car park which is free after three.”