Consultation on proposals to axe free car parking in some Suffolk towns and villages will go ahead despite concerns over the impact it will have on town centres and local businesses.

Babergh District Council cabinet met on Tuesday, January 9, to decide on a paper recommending consultation begins within affected towns and parishes to discuss options for changes to parking tariffs.

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

East Anglian Daily Times: Babergh District Council cabinet met on Tuesday, January 9Babergh District Council cabinet met on Tuesday, January 9 (Image: Sarah Lucy Brown, Newsquest)

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

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.

During the cabinet meeting, which began at 4pm on January 9, several concerns were raised over the impact the introduction could have on businesses, particularly independent shops.

East Anglian Daily Times: Cllr Jessie CarterCllr Jessie Carter (Image: Babergh District Council)

Councillor Jessie Carter, who represents Sudbury North West on Babergh District Council, said: "I appreciate that we have to find the money, I appreciate that. 

"Do I think that affecting the heart of Babergh and the economy and the people is the right way to go about finding this money? No, no I don't." 

Meanwhile Cllr Alison Owen, who represents Sudbury North East, said the town of Sudbury, which has just 4% vacant shops and 72.6% independent businesses, would be changed. 

"We don't want to follow other towns, we want to be elite," she said.

East Anglian Daily Times: Cllr Alison Owen who is against the idea of parking chargesCllr Alison Owen who is against the idea of parking charges (Image: Babergh District Council)

"I will not be going into town four or five times a week if I have to pay for car parking." 

The meeting also heard from Cllr Daniel Potter, for Orwell ward, who said he is in no doubt of the impact the charges would have on footfall to businesses. 

Cllr Deborah Saw, who represents North West Cosford, said: "I am not particularly enamoured of charging for parking but neither am I in favour of cutting services that people desperately need, for example our grants to citizen's advice.

East Anglian Daily Times: Cllr Deborah SawCllr Deborah Saw (Image: Babergh District Council)

"I don't want to do this, I know that emotions run very high about parking, but we are not talking here about airport-style charging we are looking at very reasonable tariffs and I feel that we should be responsible about this and think about the total service we give to residents."

Cllr Derek Davis said: "What are you going to lose if we don't introduce reduction in free car parking? Do we defund the leisure centres? We've seen what Suffolk County Council have done with the arts - half a million, gone. 

"We're not in a good situation and exactly as everyone says we'd rather not have to introduce these but needs must and we need to look at the bigger picture."

East Anglian Daily Times: Cllr Derek DavisCllr Derek Davis (Image: Babergh District Council)

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.

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.

During the meeting Cllr Carter, seconded by Cllr Alastair McCraw, representing Brantham, asked if the consultation area could be widened to allow for parish councils and councillors in all areas of Babergh to be invited to comment, not just those that would be directly impacted.

The cabinet voted unanimously in favour of launching the consultation across the district.