ANGRY shop owners fear they could be wiped out in months thanks to nightmare parking tariffs that have turned their streets into a ‘ghost town’.
The idyllic Cornish township of Callington has a population of 6,000 who are mainly served by independent shops and businesses.
Shoppers used to enjoy one hour of free parking in the business district, but since a fee of £1 was introduced – with an additional price for further hours – local businesses have been left with fewer customers.
Payment systems at New Road South car park were introduced in May, and three months later, one business has already been forced into declaring its imminent closure.
Town councillor Andrew Long said: "It’s damaging the soul of our beautiful town.
"We’re not Falmouth, we’re not Truro or any of those bigger places with more tourists.
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"We’re a small market town and one of the poorest areas on the Southeast coast – for a place like this it’s just not sustainable.
"How can you protect the vitality of a town centre when you impose car parking charges for people who mostly do only one-hour shops."
Andrew continued: "Sunday parking has affected us badly.
"Not a lot is open on a Sunday, but we have a large church and people from the surrounding villages, where there are less and less churches open, are now having to pay to come and worship."
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The B&M store in the town is next door to the car park, but it used to be a Co-op, which paid the council the cost of the first hour, making it free for customers.
The hope was B&M would do the same, but locals claim Cornwall Council has not resolved up the issue, despite discussions taking place.
Andrew continued: "I’m sure Cornwall Council would argue that the charge was always there but someone else was paying it.
"But the responsibility for doing the same deal with B&M as we had with Co-op rests with Cornwall Council.
"This has had a massive impact on trade, we’re already losing one store, we have a number of other stores struggling.
"You can park in a supermarket car park for two hours, for free, but you have to pay £1 to park here to use small businesses who don’t have the wealth the big supermarkets have, that’s just unfair to the Cornish people.
"It’s unfair to the hard-working people who are just trying to keep their stores going.
"They need support from the Government, they need support from Cornwall Council, and they’re getting neither at the moment.
"These people are working so hard to try to keep the life of the town going, and then we get kicked by central government and the council’s current administration, who now moved the goalposts."
He added that the suspension bridge over the River Tamar, from Saltash to Plymouth, now costs £2.60, whereas the toll used to be priced £1.50.
He added: “The car-parking charges won’t be reviewed until next April – we might not have much of a town left by next April.”
Figures shared by Cornwall Council showed the use of the car park declined by 52 per cent since the tariff was introduced.
The effects are catastrophic for some businesses – one shop has already had to make the decision to close at the end of the September, due to lack of business.
Tricia Stephenson’s shop Victoria Eyton, a party supplies and gift shop, is next door to the last remaining bank in the town, Lloyd’s, which is also closing in November.
It’s also across the road from the now boarded up former newsagent Hindles of Callington.
Tricia and her daughter Victoria Earl launched the shop six years ago, but they have seen such a dramatic drop in business they announced the shop will close on September 30.
Tricia, 67, said: "This time last year things were going so well we were looking for bigger premises to expand.
"The minute they started charging, customers were coming in saying they wouldn’t be coming any more, because of the charge.
"It’s only £1 but times are hard for everyone. One lady said ‘I’ve just paid £1.79 for a card and £1 to park, so I might as well go to Tesco’.
"We didn’t believe they would stop coming in, but then the footfall started to drop straight away.
"We were instantly down on takings by 25 to 30 per cent. Some weeks it’s been 40 per cent down on the same period last year, which is just not sustainable."
Victoria Eyton’s five-year break-clause on the lease came up in June, and her landlord agreed to let it on a month-by-month basis.
Vicki and Andy Brett, who run a pet shop called Dogsbodies, have also been affected.
Vicki said: "We had two really good years building up the business and then five years ago B&M came, which impacted us as they sell similar things and are a multi-national company.
"Then it was Covid, then the cost of living and now this – it’s just ridiculous.
"We fought the car parking when the council were consulting people, but the new car parking metres were already installed before the decision was announced, which was not helpful.
"Suddenly it was just changed… you just hope people are going to be loyal.
"A pound to some people isn’t a lot of money, but when they’ve never paid it before and they only want to pop into town, the free hour was ideal."
Dogsbodies introduced a loyalty card to offer an incentive for customers to return.
Vicki added: "Our loyalty scheme has helped but we’ve noticed a sharp decline in business and we’re really trying to retain them by emailing and posting offers on Facebook.
"We think we’re down by about 25 per cent since May.
"Everyone’s saying the same – it’s killing the town. It’s just not fair.
"Cornwall have let the people of Callington down. When people say it’s becoming a ghost town it breaks your heart."
Melissa and Gary Cummings – who run the local business Paintprint – decided to subsidise the parking cost by offering £1 back for every £10 customers spend.
Melissa, 36, who also makes ceramics, said: "It’s had a massive impact on the town… there’s no footfall, the cars aren’t even coming through.
"I think charging for that first hour has stopped people coming to town.
"For us, we’ve always had an online side, but it has meant we no longer get the passers-by who would drop in, they’re going elsewhere now.
"They’re going to bigger towns or retail parks which is not great for Callington’s sense of community.
"I’d like the council to realise the effect and give shoppers the free hour back."
A family-run business which has been in the town over 30 years is even feeling the effects of past shop closures being exacerbated by the current car-parking crisis.
Sue Wallis, 66, owns family business Colins of Callington, a bridal and menswear shop which specialises in Cornish kilts and also sells kitchen hardware and gifts.
It has free parking which serves three shops, strictly for customers only.
But sometimes her customers have found the spaces already full as non-customers take advantage.
Sue said: "What’s happening now for us is that we have people come all over Cornwall for our kilts, and we promise them free parking, but sometimes others who aren’t using our shops have used those spaces.
"The shops are closing at a rate of knots, there isn’t much left to attract people to the town itself when shops are closing.
"Shops closed after Covid – we’ve lost a jeweller, Hindles newsagent and a cake shop.
"If we had free parking and used the town as a satellite town with a park and ride that would help. Otherwise, I fear more places will end up boarded up."
The Sun has contacted B&M and Cornwall Council for comment.
In a report by Cornwall Live, the council's head of transport Cllr Connor Donnithorne said: "No decision that I have made has taken away free parking for an hour in Callington.
"It is because B&M have not wanted to carry the arrangement on. It was Co-op who sold or leased to B&M. Cornwall Council officers over many years have reached out to B&M to ask them if they want to continue that subsidy arrangement.
"I've been clear, if it means helping I would have been prepared for Cornwall Council to come to some kind of arrangement with B&M but B&M are not interested and don't respond to officer engagement, so it is not as a result of this parking tariff that they have lost their free hour.
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"Callington has seen the drop in usage because there was that particular arrangement in place. I am genuinely happy to do whatever I can to sort that out, but then we can't subsidise one car park for a free hour because every other car park would rightly say, what about us?
"And then we don't have a £1.5m (parking budget) shortfall, we have a £5m shortfall."
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