Removing free parking from towns and villages in a Suffolk district would be "an act of economic and social vandalism" according to a parish council, the latest group to voice opposition for the controversial proposals. 

Three hours of free parking is currently available in car parks in towns and villages throughout the Babergh district, including Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham.

But the cost of subsidising the free parking cost Babergh District Council about £425,000 last year and it is set to increase this year.

Now the authority, which is facing a budget gap of £1.8million, says it can no longer afford to fund the subsidy if it is to continue to deliver other essential services.

At a Great Cornard Parish Council meeting on January 8, a motion to oppose the prospect of parking charges was passed unanimously by members. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Sudbury, where parking charges could be introducedSudbury, where parking charges could be introduced (Image: Newsquest)

The motion stated: "Great Cornard Parish Council maintains and reiterates its longstanding complete opposition to the introduction, extension or increase in car parking charges in any carpark owned managed or maintained by Babergh District Council."

The parish council said it is the duty of Babergh councillors to work for the 'economic and social wellbeing of the whole district' and added that free car parking gives the likes of Sudbury and Hadleigh a 'competitive advantage' over larger towns like Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Colchester.

"It is free carparking which enables those of us who live in the large villages around Sudbury and Hadleigh to do our weekly shop inside the Babergh district to the obvious benefit of the many independent businesses which are demonstrating their resilience in their re-emergence from the slow trading of Covid-19 and lockdown while coming to terms with the increase in online shopping," a spokesperson said.

"To take away the competitive advantage of free carparking which is an enabler of the vitality and resilience of our small towns would be an act of economic and social vandalism on the part of Babergh District Council which owes to our small towns and large villages its duty of care."

East Anglian Daily Times: At a Great Cornard Parish Council meeting on January 8, a motion to oppose the prospect of parking charges was passed unanimouslyAt a Great Cornard Parish Council meeting on January 8, a motion to oppose the prospect of parking charges was passed unanimously (Image: Sarah Lucy Brown, Newsquest)

They added that free car parking benefits the tourism industry in the area. 

The parish council has called upon the leader and cabinet of Babergh District Council to 'come clean' on discussions that have already taken place and raised the fact that introducing parking charges were in no party's manifestos or leaflets ahead of the recent local elections. 

"Great Cornard has no councillors representing the village on the Babergh District Council cabinet and has thus been entirely disenfranchised in this undemocratic process so far which has the look of an attempt to introduce carparking charges by the back door," they said.

The new tariffs would apply to council-run car parks, with existing on-street parking remaining unchanged and blue badge holders still able to park in the council’s car parks for free.

A paper is to go before the authority's cabinet during a meeting at 4pm on Tuesday, January 9, recommending consultation begins with affected towns and parishes to discuss options for changes to parking tariffs next year.

A further report will then go back to cabinet in April. Councillors on the authority's overview and scrutiny committee will also consider any changes to car parking tariffs alongside wider draft budget proposals in the New Year.

In December, an online petition was set up to help save free parking in the three locations, which now has more than 2,900 signatures.

Some community leaders have said they believe plans should be curbed, including Lavenham councillor Paul Clover, who said the move could "kill retail" in the area.