‘We are on the precipice’ - business leader slams council over proposed parking charges
- Credit: Archant
Changes proposed for parking charges in Bury St Edmunds have sparked angry reaction from the business community and residents who say increases could “kill the town”.
West Suffolk Council will consider introducing a number of rises to parking tariffs, as well as scrapping the Free from 3pm initiative on Tuesdays at the town centre short-stay car parks.
The largest increases put forward by the West Suffolk Parking Review Group include a daily ticket of £4 at the Parkway multi-storey carpark for Monday to Friday, compared to £2.70 currently.
On the 'We Love Bury St Edmunds!' Facebook group some members said the plans would "kill the town", with one person saying they would be "another nail in the coffin for the already struggling high street".
READ MORE: What can be done to save the high street? One community shares their ideasAddressing the backlash, West Suffolk Council leader John Griffiths said "there's still a way to go until any final decisions are made on car parking proposals".
Mark Cordell, chief executive of the Business Improvement District group Ourburystedmunds, described the plans as a "slap in the face for businesses", adding putting prices up and taking away the free parking scheme would be a "double whammy".
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He said: "Bury St Edmunds is performing well when compared with other towns and cities, but it's not performing as well as it was. In 2016 the footfall was 7% higher than it was in 2019. We have the highest number of empty units than we ever had and we are on the precipice [of the death of the high street]."
Mr Cordell said the timing of the report, which is going before the council's overview and scrutiny committee on January 23, was "bizarre" when taking into account the struggles high streets are facing, and accused the West Suffolk authority of being "out of touch with what's going on in our town centre".
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"I'm confident the cabinet [at the council] will see this for what it is and not agree it all," he said.
James Sheen, behind the 'We Love Bury St Edmunds!' Facebook group, described the proposals as "short-sighted".
He has launched a change.org petition calling on West Suffolk Council to introduce two days of free parking in all car parks to include a Wednesday to support the market and one other day.
It says: "In these times of struggling high streets, with pressure being put upon local businesses of high business rates (as set by central government), and high rents, increasing charges for parking would be detrimental to the businesses and success of the town."
Mr Sheen added: "We love Bury and we want to protect it. We want to protect the retailers who at the moment are not getting the business. They are talking about changing the hours from up to 6pm to up to 8pm. All of the restaurants in the town will suffer badly."
While the recommendations include scrapping the £1 night charge, it is proposed to extend the normal charging tariff to 8pm to avoid "confusion for the user by not having two separate tariff structures at the start and end of the day".
Mike Simmonite, who owns Gastrono-me cafe in Abbeygate Street in the town, said some people may be put off by paying for this extra chunk of time, which would have a detrimental effect on the night-time economy - something he said began at about 5pm.
"Those of us [businesses] who have managed to survive for the last five years or so have found it very, very difficult and as a collective group of businesses we need to feel the council is there to support us.
"Increasing parking charges and extending the parking period, as you can see from the [We Love Bury St Edmunds!] Facebook page, has caused an enormous amount of upset for lots of people.
"There are so many instances where the council is extremely supportive of the town and does a tremendous amount for the town with the likes of the Christmas fair, but it gives and then it takes away, and it's hard."
Mr Griffiths said the council's main priority was "the continued prosperity, environment and safety of our communities and businesses", but it did come at a cost.
The report said: "Where appropriate, the user should pay for parking given that there is no such thing as 'free parking'. There are costs associated with owning and running car parks. It costs money to own and manage a car park.
"The council has seen the business rates that it pays on its car parks rise to close to £1million a year."
The report says the council subsidises 'free from 3' by an estimated £80,000 per year - but Mr Cordell disputed how they came to this figure - and all tariffs had been increased to absorb the cost of the Ringo transaction charges.
The new tariffs would bring in an estimated extra £300,000 a year if they come into force in April.
A council spokesman said: "A West Suffolk Car Parking Review Group, made up of councillors from across the authority has published its proposals. Those are due to be considered by West Suffolk Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday. That committee will debate and decide what proposals should go forward for consideration by cabinet. The council's cabinet, which ultimately will make any decisions on car parking changes, will consider the recommendations on 11 February."
-For the full recommendations see here.