PARKING charges need to be dropped for health reasons as well as to help support retailers beginning to reopen following the coronavirus lockdown.

So says Knutsford town councillor Elizabeth Beswick, who is concerned about the economic and health impact of the decision by Cheshire East Council to reinstate car park charges.

Cllr Beswick, who is a GP, said: “Having to use the car parking machines is a health issue and risks transmitting the coronavirus among the different people using the machine when putting in car registration numbers.

“Furthermore, as the machines are card payment only, they do not cater to those who do not use cards or online payment methods.

“The retailers and businesses will suffer as a result, with people less likely to use the car parks and therefore visit the town centre, due to the potential health risks.

“It has been chaos in Booths car park with people not being able to sort out how to use the car park machines – which are particularly difficult to understand for the visually impaired and elderly.

Moreover, with the sun shining on the machine screens, it is very difficult to read the screen or follow the onscreen instructions.

“There are two wardens there at present helping people, however, some people in the Booths car park were overheard saying they are finding it too much hassle and will shop elsewhere.

“At a time when we need to be encouraging people to shop local and support our high streets, the decision to reintroduce charges completely undermines those efforts.

“Parking charges need to be dropped for health reasons and for the sake of retailers.”

Councillor Laura Crane, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for highways, said: “When paying for parking, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, coins provide multiple touchpoints for the users of the machines and for our staff.

“As the machines offer a contactless option, we have encouraged this and ask for a little patience as the machine contacts the satellite to take the payment. There is also the alternative option to use RingGo if someone wanted to avoid using the machine completely.

“I would also stress that local shops are all urging customers to avoid using cash and go ‘contactless’ in the interests of minimising risks to health and that we have had only a small handful of complaints about the use of cards to pay for parking across the borough.

“The avoidance of using cash also reduces the health risk to our staff as well as the cost to the council of staff emptying the machines of money and the significant cost of repairing machines targeted by thieves, which has happened in recent months.

“As with all Covid-19-related health measures, this requirement is under regular review.

“Parking charges ensure that high streets benefit from a steady flow of people throughout the day, as businesses reopen. The money raised from car parking is one of many income streams for the council. 

“The council is facing unprecedented financial pressure as a result of the pandemic and the decision to reintroduce these charges has been taken in that context."