Business Covid recovery worries key to parking charges decision

North Street car park, Sudbury. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Changes to parking in Babergh have been postponed - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Babergh District Council’s leader has said the authority needed to recognise the fears of businesses in their recovery from Covid-19 in postponing changes to free parking in the district.

Plans had been approved earlier this year by the authority’s cabinet to reduce free parking from three hours to one to address the £185,000+ annual cost of subsidising parking, due to come into effect in January.

But last month it was confirmed that the change has been postponed indefinitely after much political quarrelling behind the scenes.

It left the authority’s Conservative, Independent and Liberal Democrat cabinet deeply divided, but Conservative council leader John Ward addressed fears on Monday afternoon.
 

Picture: BABERGH DISTRICT COUNCIL

John Ward, Conservative leader at Babergh District Council - Credit: BABERGH DISTRICT COUNCIL

He told the cabinet: “Yes, the cost of providing car parks must sensibly be borne at least in part by the users so we can free up funds for services for all our residents and yes, we do want to encourage transport modal shift for those living close to the town centres, but the question of whether the reduction from three hours to one hour free parking will or will not have an impact on businesses is really at the core of the controversy and it is clear that there are strongly held views on both sides.”

Cllr Ward said that the independent businesses in the districts two biggest towns, Sudbury and Hadleigh, were doing ‘reasonably well’ but added: “We must also acknowledge that many businesses are fearful that any change to parking charges at the moment could affect what is for some a slow recovery from Covid.

“Irrespective of whether any effect is real or not, that fear exists and as a result of this we have made a further postponement of the tariff changes.”

While an indefinite postponement has been made for now, Cllr Ward stressed that any future consideration would need to be done in such a way that it could consider “how we can make any future charges more palatable” for businesses.

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The cabinet’s Independents and Liberal Democrat had successfully argued that original proposals to reduce free parking down to just half an hour should instead be one hour, and secured a postponement of implementing change from July 2021 to October, and an additional postponement until January 2022.

Monday’s meeting also clarified that the original implementation proposal for parking charges had been from the Conservative contingent and not Independents.

Deputy council leader Clive Arthey, leader of the Independents, said: “We all remember the discussions that took place over the period running up to the February decision and the discussions that have taken place since.

“The original proposals were different – there was an earlier implementation date and there was only half an hour free, and it was actually the Independents and the Liberal Democrat on the cabinet who secured a dilution of the original proposals.”

Cllr Arthey had previously raised concerns that the postponement to 2023 at the earliest had not been agreed by the cabinet, and said that improvements to signage, resurfacing, access arrangements, active travel measures and extended resident parking schemes should not be delayed as well.