Council 'could sell off car parks'

PUBLIC-owned car parks in Bury St Edmunds could be sold off by a council struggling to control a £1.7million shortfall for a major new arts complex, it has emerged.

Laurence Cawley

PUBLIC-owned car parks in Bury St Edmunds could be sold off by a council struggling to control a £1.7million shortfall for a major new arts complex, it has emerged.

The proposals by St Edmundsbury Borough Council for its new Cattle Market car parks have been outlined in a confidential council paper seen by the EADT.

But business leaders last night warned trade in the town would suffer because of higher parking charges, and urged the council to scrap the plans.

Once built, St Edmundsbury Borough Council believes its public venue will be the centrepiece of the £105m Cattle Market redevelopment.

Earlier this year the EADT reported how the project was running £1.6million over budget. That figure now stands at £1.76million, and those behind the scheme warn it might open 34 weeks late.

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To cover the shortfall, the council has asked the East of England Development Agency for an extra £500,000 on top of the £1.49million already coughed up by the agency.

But officers have also suggested the idea of selling off its car parks to cover the deficit.

The council yesterday confirmed it was exploring “a number of options for funding” and vowed it would not “compromise on the quality and flexibility in the venue”.

But in the confidential report, the council's corporate director of resources Jerry Massey said: “In relation to this development, the council could sell its property interests or the surface and underground car parks.”

The preferred option, he said, was for the council to dig into its existing funds and cover the extra costs involved in the scheme. But this, he said, would lose the council £88,000 each year from lost interest.

Chrissy Harrod, chairman of Bury's Town Centre Management Group, called on the council not to sell off the car parks warning if a private firm took it over prices might go up alienating potential visitors.

“We can't have any more car parking charge increases and it is imperative we make sure we get people coming to the town and staying here,” she said.

“We've got a brand spanking new development and the existing town centre shops and we want people to come and stay a while, not worrying about how much the car parking is costing them.

“We would urge the council to think about this very carefully, we would beg them not to go down that route.”

Simon Pott, chairman of the Bury St Edmunds Society, said: “This is becoming quite chronic. Selling the car parks would be a really sad thing.”

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