Babergh free parking changes decision delayed
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
A decision on controversial proposals to dramatically cut free car parking in Babergh has been pushed back amid mounting pressure.
Babergh District Council's cabinet meeting tonight (Thursday, January 7) was due to agree plans to radically reform short stay car park charges across the district which would have seen most of the three hours free car parking cut back to just 30 minutes, although tailored approaches were set to be taken for each town or village.
The proposals, leaked shortly before Christmas, were met with a swathe of opposition from business leaders and town council chiefs in Hadleigh and Sudbury.
Now, Conservative leader of Babergh's rainbow administration, John Ward, has announced the decision has been pushed back until February to ensure there is adequate time to debate the issue.
"We have been fortunate to have been in a position to subsidise three hours’ free parking for as long as we have, but the time has now come for some difficult decisions," Mr Ward said.
"We understand the strength of feeling – particularly from local businesses who are battling the impact of the pandemic – and we have pledged throughout to do everything possible to retain some element of free parking.
"The eventual outcome, however, must meet the needs of taxpayers and residents as well as visitors and business.
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“Delaying until February allows the issue to be discussed by overview and scrutiny committee, and full debate by all councillors at our next council meeting, to ensure that this is a fully transparent decision when it finally comes back to cabinet.”
Businesses in Hadleigh argued that the free parking was a key draw for shoppers, and the Covid-19 pandemic meant firms needed all the support they could get in 2021.
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Tony Addison, one of the directors of Hadleigh Chamber of Commerce, shortly before Christmas, said: “It’s despicable. If we had real figures about what they argue is the reason for doing it I think we would find they don’t have a justification for it, and then add to that the damage it would do to the high street.”
Independent Hadleigh councillor Kathryn Grandon had written to the cabinet shortly before the announcement urging a decision to be put off until after the pandemic, and cited fears that the initial change in parking fees would open the flood gates to future price rises.
Mr Ward however has argued that the cost of subsiding the free parking is expected to be around £440,000 in the next financial year which was an expense the council could not afford, and income from the charges would be pumped back into parking services.
The issue came to a head shortly before the new year when a group of protestors gathered at Mr Ward's home, necessitating police involvement.
Officers arrested one man in his 50s on suspicion of public order offences, who has been released under investigation while enquiries continue.
The plan had been for those car park changes to be introduced from July 2021.