A campaign to stop parking meters being installed in Tavistock over fears that it will kill trade was backed by the area’s two Conservative county councillors at a public meeting attended by 100 people, writes Alison Stephenson.

Cllr Philip Sanders (Con, Yelverton Rural) called it “a money-making exercise” by Devon County Council (DCC) and that he was “vehemently” against it. And Cllr Debo Sellis (Con, Tavistock) said the on-street meters would be “detrimental” to the town. Both are part of the county’s ruling party.

The ‘Stop the Meters’ campaign is being led by Tavistock Business Improvement District (BID) and Tavistock Town Council and has the support of West Devon District Council and Tavistock Chamber of Commerce. An online petition has so far gained 3,500 signatories.

Under the county council’s proposals, the first hour of parking will be free, with an option to pay for a second hour, but all drivers will have to display tickets.

Devon County Council says the move will increase turnover and help the high street, stop congestion and improve air quality.

But a survey conducted by BID, and presented at the public meeting in the Bedford Hotel, revealed that the average time people parked in town centre streets was 28 minutes, resulting in a “good churn” of vehicles and shoppers.

Seventy-two per cent said they would visit the town less if meters were installed and it has been estimated that local trade would suffer by half.

The present one-hour parking restriction work well, said campaigners, and congestion and air quality problems “didn’t exist” in Tavistock.

They said they had to do their own surveys as no evidence or data had been produced by the county council.

Some people fear that Tavistock may lose its World Heritage Status if meters proposed for Brook Street, Duke Street, Plymouth Road, Russell Street and West Street go ahead, and drivers will be displaced to residential streets.

The council wants to install meters in eight Devon towns, which has led to  opposition from Okehampton, Dartmouth and Crediton as well as Tavistock. Honiton, Salcombe, Sidmouth and Braunton are the other towns on the list.

DCC’s cabinet will make a decision at its next meeting on Wednesday 13 March. Tavistock BID manager Janna Sanders said residents from across Devon would be coming “en masse” to protest at county hall and there would be a special protest for all locals to attend in Tavistock on Saturday 9 March.

She said the eight towns had been chosen because they were “the least deprived” with fewer vacant outlets. “Sadly the number of empty shops has increased and we are not below the national average anymore,” she said.

Tavistock has a high population of elderly residents and blue badge holders, and having to put a car registration number in a machine would cause them anxiety enough without having to phone to pay or an app, added Mrs Sanders.

“They just want to pop into the grocery shop or the butchers, have a chat and buy something quickly. Having to negotiate parking meters is going to change everything about our high street. We are thinking about people’s mental health as well as supporting the businesses we care about.”

County councillor Philip Sanders (Con, Yelverton) said in a statement read out at the meeting that he voted against parking meetings in 2010 and nothing had changed. He wrote: “I am vehemently against this. I feel that it is a money making exercise and nothing more.”

Philip Sanders
Yelterton Rural county councillor Philip Sanders (Submitted)

Cllr Debo Sellis (Con, Tavistock) said: “I am going to support the community. I am annoyed by the way this has all been mishandled by the county, and Tavistock doesn’t need parking meters as the hour restriction we already have appears to work. The meters would be detrimental to the town.”

Debo Sellis
Tavistock and Gulworthy county councillor Debo Sellis (Submitted)

Princetown resident Nick Bennett said he came to Tavistock twice a week for shopping and services and having borderline dementia he is worried about forgetting to get a ticket and being hit with a huge fine.

“These proposals are not based on science, he said. “They are purely based on the council trying to scabble more money from the taxpayer and I believe it is wrong on every level.”