If people are no longer allowed to park on Uckfield High Street the town will die.
That was a warning issued by speakers at an emergency meeting of Uckfield Chamber of Commerce at the Civic Centre yesterday evening (Thursday January 15).
The meeting was held to address concerns about plans – central to the town’s regeneration scheme – to remove parking from the High Street.
Therese Wilson, from St Peter and St James Hospice, which runs two charity shops in the town, said: “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
More than 80 tradespeople, councillors and members of the Uckfield Regeneration Board committee attended.
Speakers included Cllr Mick Harker, Regeneration Committee chairman, Chris Lawson, of Lawson Commercial, Charles Mears Lamb, of Noble Wines, Mark Arno, from Carvills, and representatives from charities which run High Street shops.
The meeting was chaired by Fiona Monson, of Armida Chartered Accountants, Chamber president.
First speaker was Cllr Harker who described the regeneration programme in detail.
When asked for their views before the scheme started, he explained residents had prioritised ‘pedestrian safety’ and slowing High Street traffic.
He also pointed out that the scheme overcame piecemeal development.
But Chris Lawson cited a Hadlow Down Parish Council meeting, fully minuted, where Cllr Ken Ogden asked Wealden economic development portfolio holder Cllr Roy Galley whether an agreement had been reached with the railway company that 60 parking spaces be removed in Uckfield High Street.
Mr Lawson said that Roy Galley confirmed Wealden’s head of planning ‘advised that Network Rail spaces are reliant on a reduction in High Street parking spaces’ – an accusation robustly refuted by the council itself.
He said: “If it’s not true why did he say it and why was the question asked?
“People will not be able to shop at all if there are no shops – and many which suffered during the eight-week works in the town say they will not survive further disruption or removal of parking.”
He went on: “I thought this scheme was meant to be under review? It appears they are ploughing on regardless.”
Charles Mears-Lamb, from Noble Wines, whose petition against the closure attracted 5,000 signatures, said: “If it’s not coercion or bribery then it’s insanity.”
He believes that at no point was the decision subject to a Town Council vote.
“We could afford to lose five spaces, but not 43.
“At present all the vitriol in the town is directed at the proposed loss of parking.
“It will kill the High Street.”
Several speakers described towns such as Woking, Sutton and Stoke on Trent where removing on-street parking had seen off small, individual businesses.
In East Grinstead, one speaker said: “A U-turn saw High Street parking reinstated but not before small, niche shops had gone to the wall and been replaced by ‘identikit chains’.”
And they held up Heathfield as an example of ways careful pedestrian planning coupled with street parking has revitalised the town.
County’s project manager Matthew Reid said the regeneration board is reviewing the next stage of works and will consider creating space where people are allowed 20 minutes for drop-off and pick-up.
The meeting closed with a vote overwhelmingly in favour of retaining existing High Street parking spaces.