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Are parking charges to blame for Brighton's missing visitors?
A war of words has broken out over the effect parking charges are having on visitors to Brighton and Hove.
The number of people using the Visitor Information Centre in Brighton has plummeted by more than 10% compared to last year, with more and more staying away each month.
Traders last night blamed Brighton and Hove City Council ’s decision to push up parking prices by up to 100% for the falling number of people coming to shop.
But council officials deny the parking charges are to blame – saying bad weather and the recession are responsible for the fall.
Figures obtained by The Argus using the Freedom of Information Act show that 24,689 fewer people have used the information centre in Pavilion Buildings in the first seven months of this year compared to the same period in 2011.
In the first three months of the year the numbers remained fairly static.
But since parking charges were increased on April 1, visitor levels have slumped. In April numbers were down 6%, in May and June 14% and in July 19%.
The numbers are used by Brighton and Hove City Council to gauge the volume of tourists visiting the city. As reported in The Argus, the Visitor Information Centre is due to close its doors for good next year.
A spokeswoman for the council said “several factors” could have affected numbers, including bad weather, the recession and more people swapping the visitor centre for information online.
She said: “We don’t believe car parking charges have had a significant effect on visitor numbers as the council raises fees in April every year and this has never previously affected the figures.”
Claire Ottewell, the chair of the city’s Tourism Alliance, said: “The increase in parking charges has clearly put visitors off."
David Sewell, chair of North Laine Traders Association and owner of the Pavilion Gardens Cafe, said the poor weather and high parking charges had delivered a double whammy to traders.
Adam Chinery, from Brighton Seafront Traders’ Association, and Glen Harman, the boss at Waves cafe in Madeira Drive, said businesses on the seafront were being wiped out by the parking charge increase.
Mr Harman said: “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that it’s the parking charges that are keeping people away. People go home and tell their friends and family not to come here.”
Council leader Jason Kitcat last week told a meeting of Brighton and Hove Business Support Partnership that parking charges were increased to stop people using their cars.
Last night he told The Argus: “Bus passenger numbers are up 5% since the parking charges were introduced. People are looking for alternative ways to get into the city such as bus and train and we want to accelerate that.”
A spokesman for the council added: ”Visitor numbers to attractions such as the Royal Pavilion, Preston Manor and the city’s museums are up by more than 5% compared to last year. The trend has seen an extra 10,000 people visit these attractions, despite the dismal weather.”
But Ann Martin, manager at the palace Pier said that poor weather will have boosted the numbers at indoor attractions.
She said: “Our visitor numbers are not up. Any outdoor attraction is bound to have suffered because of the weather.”