Visionary plan for underground car park beneath Recreation Ground

December 29 2017
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A RADICAL plan is being promoted as the solution to Wells’ parking woes – an underground car park beneath the Recreation Ground.

Wells resident Geraldine Peacock is a former chair of the Charity Commission and chief executive of Guide Dogs for the Blind. She received a CBE for her services to the voluntary sector in 2000.

Now she is the driving force behind a scheme for a car park several storeys deep under the Rec, with road access via a tunnel that starts near Morrisons, and a lift from the car park to the surface in the Market Place.

“I see an underground car park as the only solution that will save Wells in the long term,” she said. “I often went on holiday to Italy where they have all those medieval towns with underground parking. Why can’t we do that in Wells?”

Geraldine’s late partner Bob Gannicott was a mining geologist who thought that an underground car park in Wells was a viable project.

“People worry about the water table but an underground car park would be much deeper and wouldn’t touch the water table,” said Geraldine.

She thinks that funding for such a scheme could come from several sources, including the private sector, and would like to see a group of wealthy ‘local heroes’ from Wells invest in it as a way of giving something back to the community.

“You have to have people with dreams sometimes. I’m going to gather people round and see if we can do it. It’s whether I have the energy and can find enough people to back me,” said Geraldine, who has had Parkinson’s Disease for many years.

“It’s not about doing different things, it’s about doing things differently,” she added.

A Somerset County Council spokesperson said that an underground car park was an interesting idea, but added: “The development of an underground car park in Wells would be particularly challenging due to the unique nature of Wells being a conservation area and the potential of disturbing areas of archaeological importance, both of which could significantly increase the cost.”

Despite the obstacles, the idea already has backing from others in Wells.

“I support the idea of trying to do something imaginative which maintains the unique setting of our city, rather than simply concreting over the fields around our wonderful cathedral and unique medieval precinct,” said Andy Webb of Visit Wells.

“I agree that it is worth looking at the costs and technical feasibility of underground or covered parking that is landscaped.”

Robert Powell, chairman of Wells Chamber of Commerce, also thinks it is one of the options that should be explored.

“The recent growth of Wells’ housing stock and the success of marketing Wells as a tourist destination means we need to find a long-term solution to the issue of parking,” he said.

“Car parking is not only a problem for shoppers and visitors but also for residents and workers and it is my hope that in 2018 all interested parties can come together to seek a solution. Options that should be considered should include sites for new car parks, underground parking, multi-storey car parks as well as a park and ride scheme.”

Everyone agrees that whatever the solution, something needs to be done about the parking situation in the city.

“Parking in Wells has been a frustration for many years and as we seek to grow the city, its economy and our appeal to tourists, it is probable that even greater strain will be placed on parking in the near future,” said Wells MP James Heappey.

“The solution for this clearly sits with the local councils. But the solution needs to be as imaginative as possible, so that the appeal of Wells as a place to live, work and visit is not undermined by the constant frustration of being unable to park.”

Progress is being made in some areas, including with new signs planned for early in 2018 to guide people to short-stay or long-stay car parks in the hope that they will be better utilised.

“There’s never 100 per cent occupancy of car parks in Wells,” said Mayor of Wells Councillor John North.

“We’re putting up better signage to direct people to parking that is more appropriate to their needs. That doesn’t solve all the issues. Parking has been a problem in Wells for years. Perhaps we need to look at park and ride that serves multiple towns.”

Mendip District Council has five car parks in Wells, and says that it continues to monitor and review them all.

“The council are aware that during popular events the car parks can become busy and we continue to monitor this,” said a spokesman.

Andy Webb has offered to analyse the digital data from parking machines to provide a properly informed picture of how fully utilised they are and whether there is spare capacity.

But with people who drive to Wells to work and shop seemingly unable to find a suitable space in a car park or unwilling to pay the charges, streets outside the city centre are being used for parking instead – leading to complaints from residents.

“The situation in Wells is often seen in historical towns and cities, particularly where there is a lack of parking associated with city centre properties, many of which were built before the car was invented,” said the county council spokesperson.

“Increasing demand by visitors or commuters into Wells can cause increased demand in residential areas as drivers attempt to avoid paying for parking; this occurs regardless of the level of charges or controls within local car parks.”

Wells City Council says that it is working with police and Highways to find a fairer solution for residents.