The dreaded day of car-parking charges arrived in Midhurst and Petworth – not so much with a bang as with a resigned whimper.
Almost two years after Chichester District Council (CDC) announced it was considering bringing charging to its rural car parks, motorists were finally faced with the unpopular machines.
Despite fears both Midhurst and Petworth would become clogged with cars on residential roads close to the town centres as motorists shunned the pay and display machines, it was more a question of ‘where have all the cars gone?’
The biggest initial problem has been caused by confusion over the two-ticket system and motorists failing to display tickets for the first two hours of free parking.
Midhurst’s Chichester district councillor Brian Weekes, who spoke out against car-park charging, said: “Although the North Street car park seemed full by lunchtime, I don’t know where the cars went earlier in the day, there were definitely fewer in the town.
“It could be those people who warned at protest meetings last year they would go to Petersfield and Haslemere in protest, have done exactly that.”
He also believed it was possible those who used it as a commuter car park and car-shared to Haslemere station had also changed their habits.
He said he had been out in the car parks speaking to motorists: “I am finding older people particularly are very confused about how to use the ticket machines.”
A Midhurst trader added customers were angry and confused over the parking arrangements: “People don’t realise that even if they are only parking for the first two hours which are free, they still have to get a ticket and are having to rush back to their cars.”
In Petworth charges seem to have cleared the town-centre car park of long-term parkers, including traders.
Early on Tuesday afternoon the town-centre car park was unusually empty, while the Sylvia Beaufoy – which remains free all day – was jammed with cars.
Bob Sneller, who owns Allans Menswear in New Street, has habitually used the Sylvia Beaufoy and now finds he is sharing it with many more people seeking a free space.
“A lot of the traders are using it and there are probably a few people who live in the town parking their cars there, too,” he said.
“I don’t think it is going to affect people visiting Petworth. People are used to paying for car parking elsewhere.”
Residents living on the edge of Petworth town centre have not yet reported a problem with parked cars.
But town councillor Juliet Fynes cautioned: “It is too early yet to detect a trend.
“If there is going to be an effect from charging it is more likely to show up when the season gets going with things happening in Petworth.”
She added: “The locals coming in to shop get a free hour’s parking and 20p for another hour which is really neither here nor there.”