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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 14th November 2008
David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, urges Ripon to sort out its parking with an imaginative new scheme.

In the Middle Ages there were trials by ordeal – by fire, by red-hot iron, by water. We may think we are fortunate that those days have long gone; but we have ordeals of our own devising today, and one of those, especially in Ripon, seems to be the ordeal by parking.

Ripon is not unique, of course, in having long-lasting and sometimes acrimonious disputes about the provision of parking. In some ways it goes with its status as an historic city, with a street plan that stretches back at least a thousand years. In recent years the increase in traffic has meant an ever-increasing pressure on the parking that is available in the city. Perhaps the time has now come for some radical solutions.

Ripon Civic Society’s policy, as set out in last week’s article, is for the Market Square to be fully pedestrianised. There are, no doubt, readers who at this point will become very cross. ‘We need the Square to park,’ they will say. ‘How can we shop or visit the bank without being able to park there? It is inconceivable!’

But stop and consider. Even if we ignore the aesthetics of the matter – and the Square marred by many parked cars in hardly an attraction – freeing the Square of parking and through traffic will have additional benefits. With no vehicles using the Square, Kirkgate and Duck Hill, there will be a safe, attractive and, for the traders, more profitable city centre, that really attracts people to ‘stay awhile’ and spend their money, to the benefit of the local economy.

So where do cars park if they cannot use the heart of the city? The answer is obvious – on the edge. The city already has car parks to the east and the west of the Square. These are valuable assets and, in the case of the three-level car park behind Sainsbury’s store, they should be enhanced, though there should not be a new deck there. And there are already potential sites for further car parking – not least the former gasworks site on Stonebridgegate. It is very near the city centre – hardly five minutes’ walk – and is an ideal place. And the car park opposite the hospital in Firby Lane could be extended by excavating into the hill below, with access from Somerset Row.

What would really help, though, is a simple Park and Ride (P&R) scheme. This could be based, perhaps, at the old Cattle Auction Market site on North Road. Cars and coaches would be told by good new signage (carefully sited) to use the P&R. There would be frequent small shuttle-buses into the centre. There is the possibility of using another site on the south of the city – the former quarry off Harrogate Road is an obvious site – for another P&R terminal.

The P&R buses would also serve another purpose. With a carefully-organised route through the city they could provide an easy way for visitors to get between the various tourist attractions in the city – a circuit that includes the three Law and Order museums, the cathedral, Thorpe Prebend House and the Spa Gardens, for example.

Above all, there needs to be a change of attitude from people who want to bring their cars into the city. Driving is a convenience, not a right – and parking even more so. Perhaps we should all like to put our cars outside the places we are visiting, so we don’t need to make any effort; but this is unrealistic. Most historic cities now operate P&R; the national P&R website (www.parkandride.net) lists them. Some, like York and Cambridge, are bigger cities than Ripon, of course, but the list also contains places like Truro and Ely, both of a comparable size to Ripon.

In these places the presumption is that, unless you are disabled, you park on the city’s periphery and take the bus in. Car parks nearer the centre (and never bang in the middle) are priced higher and you will still have to walk some distance, as visitors to York will know.

Ripon must not lag behind in this important matter. Yes, it will cause annoyance to some people, and they will see it as an unwarranted imposition. Just think, though, of the advantages – a congestion-free city in which it is a pleasure to walk and in which traders can expect people to stay longer and spend more. That is surely a price worth paying.

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