RIVERSIDE artists say ‘dictatorial’ parking rules are driving them away.
The painters say some of their number have already given up travelling to sell their wares at the city’s popular Groves beside the River Dee because of the parking problems.
“Many visitors tell us they feel the artists add colour and vibrancy to the riverside scene but our numbers are dwindling,” said watercolourist Brian Dobson who travels into the city from Manchester.
Brian’s been exhibiting at the Groves for more than 20 years but he says he’s at the end of his tether.
“We pay the council £320 a year to sell our wares but the parking situation is ridiculous.
“We are supposed to stay with our paintings at all times but I can’t park my van down here. It makes life very very difficult for us. If it rains – and it does quite often – we have to cover up our work as best we can and scurry off to get our vehicles.
“People have had stock damaged by the rain and there’s also the risk of having works pinched, although that hasn’t happened to me.”
Brian said that some of the parking wardens seem to go out of their way to hound the community of artists on the riverside.
“One or two are helpful but the others go out of their way to make life awkward for us. They’ve already driven some of the artists away because they are not helping us to look after our stock – the opposite, in fact.
“I would describe most of the wardens as unhelpful, dictatorial and occasionally really nasty with absolutely no respect for the people trading down here.”
Many of those sentiments are echoed by 73-year-old George Drought from St Helens, who specialises in drawings and paintings of popular Chester scenes and has been exhibiting at the Groves for many years.
George suffers from a “bad heart” and has undergone heart surgery – but he is forced to park south of the river and use a handcart to transport his stock to the Groves.
“It would be so much better if we could park by our pitch,” said George. “I have to use a trolley to get to my pitch and, with my bad heart and my age, I can only transport a fraction of my stock. The parking issue has got more and more difficult.
“Our lives would be so much easier if the council permit enabled us to park nearby. I don’t think it’s too much to ask,” he said.
Peter Freeman, 52, and his wife Jaqi Lowe, 45, both have pitches.
They too are sick and tired of being hounded by the traffic wardens while they pursue their livelihoods.
The couple travel from Leigh in Lancashire with £20,000 worth of stock. They reiterate the difficulty of trying to protect their works from the weather but Jaqi has a serious leg knee condition which entitles her to a disabled parking permit.
Peter, who starting exhibiting in Chester as 12-year-old boy, says they still get harassed by the parking wardens despite Jaqi’s disabled parking permit.
“Jaqi’s knee’s in a terrible state. She’s always in pain with it and sometimes has to take oral morphine to cope with the pain. The doctors have told her she may have to have her leg amputated. But still we get hassled.
“I’m not surprised everyone is complaining. We used to be able to park here but then they stopped it. You have to have a vehicle nearby in order to do exhibit here,” he said.
John Green, 84, of Elm Grove, Ellesmere Port, set up the riverside community of artists with seven other people in 1970.
He feels overzealous parking wardens are hurting the image of Chester – as well as the exhibitors.
“We entertain the public by adding a bit of colour and interest. We’re part of the scenery and visitors enjoy browsing the art as they promenade along the Groves,” he said.
“The people who issue the artists with vending licences are terrific – as helpful as could be. But the wardens work for another department and I just wish they would leave us alone.”
Mr Green says it would be wonderful if the council issued parking permits along with the vending licences. “Some of the artists got so fed up with the parking problems that they packed up.
“It would be a sad loss to the street scene if others packed it in,” he said.
A council spokesman said: “The Groves is an extremely popular area of the city for residents and visitors alike, and this stretch of parking provides instant access to the riverside, which is particularly useful for disabled or elderly people.
“The limited amount of parking available at The Groves means it would not be possible to provide designated parking for the artists.
“However, if they would like to get in touch with us to discuss their concerns, we would be more than happy to explore ways in which we may be able to help.”
See full story in the Chester Leader