A petition to save free parking in towns and villages across a Suffolk district has reached the 10,000 mark. 

In December, Babergh District Council announced plans to charge for parking throughout the district in order to balance its books. 

Three hours of free parking is currently available in council-owned car parks in Sudbury, Lavenham and Hadleigh, but the council has said the cost of subsidising the car parks cost them about £425,000 this year and it is set to increase next year.

The new tariffs would only 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.

East Anglian Daily Times: Paul Clover in Sudbury Market HillPaul Clover in Sudbury Market Hill (Image: Paul Clover)

A petition was launched by Babergh district councillor Paul Clover in December to save the free parking.

This has now been signed by 10,500 people.  

Mr Clover said: "What the petition shows is just how far people are prepared to travel to enjoy the free parking and the independent small retailers these towns offer, not just across the district but from places such as Colchester, Ipswich, Stowmarket, Bury St Edmunds, Braintree, Halstead and even Chelmsford.

"Why risk the fragile economy of our town centres?

"Just look at the town centres where car park charges have helped to kill off the soul of the town.

"There are many local examples. At a time of economic crisis, it defies common sense commercial logic to impose charges that will drive down visitor numbers and trade and compromise business rate income.

"The district council may then be required to make additional investment to try to undo the damage. But will the shoppers come back? It just does not make sense."

A consultation has also been launched to discuss options for charges to parking tariffs in the affected areas. 

At a meeting in March, the council's scrutiny committee said a decision will be made in March.

During the meeting, leader of Babergh council David Busby said the authority would look at offering other transport services into the town if free parking was scrapped. 

East Anglian Daily Times: David BusbyDavid Busby (Image: Newsquest)

Speaking previously, Mr Busby said: “Like all local authorities, we are facing tough financial decisions for the year ahead and find ourselves facing an increasingly difficult challenge.

“We need to balance our books; we need to support our high streets and town centre businesses by encouraging trade; and we need to encourage more sustainable travel in order reduce congestion in our towns, improve air quality and tackle climate change."

A spokesperson for Babergh District Council said: "The council is facing significant budget pressures and can no longer afford to subsidise ‘free parking’ if we are to continue delivering other essential services to residents and communities.

“The proposal is to introduce modest, revised tariffs in council-run car parks which will be as low as possible compared to other local councils, so that we can continue to attract visitors and remove the burden of ‘free’ parking being subsidised by all taxpayers, including non-motorists, whether they use the car parks or not.

“We do not believe the success of town centres is defined by parking charges alone, but we recognise there is concern about this proposal and that there are challenges – one size is unlikely to ‘fit all’.

“That is why we are talking, not only to the town and parish councils directly affected, but to all our town and parish councils and other recognised groups to come up with the best solution for all."