'I would rather be dragged through hell' - Anger over proposed car parking charges
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Fresh plans to introduce short-term parking charges in Babergh have been met by vehement opposition across Hadleigh and Sudbury, branding them “despicable” when Covid-19 is already impacting on the high street.
Leaked proposals due to go to Babergh District Council’s cabinet on January 7 and set to be published next week indicate the council is looking to introduce some form of charge for the first three hours of parking, which are currently free.
Hadleigh firms say high streets in the district’s market towns need all the help they can get when Covid-19 has already disrupted business so much.
Tony Addison, one of the directors of Hadleigh Chamber of Commerce, 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.”
Mr Addison said many independent stores in Hadleigh benefitted from people coming to the town for appointments such as opticians or doctors and then shopping afterwards, and charging for those shorter stays would mean people will not stay to shop.
He added that the free parking had been a draw for new independents joining the town.
Frank Minns, mayor of Hadleigh said: “They [Babergh] didn’t tell Hadleigh Town Council at all – they didn’t even tell us they were looking at this which I think is really high-handed, it’s just not the way you should do things.
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“People here are very worried about this. The high street is going through a tough time at the moment and this will deter people to do shopping here.
“Why if this was a bad idea in the past is it suddenly a good idea now?”
Ian Grutchfield, who runs the Hadleigh Old School venue, said the three hour free parking had been beneficial for customers, and has resigned from the Invest in Hadleigh group in protest.
He said: “It was noted that free car parking is one of the economic advantages that businesses in our town - and Sudbury, Lavenham, East Bergholt, etc have.
“At a time of recession the policy will be destructive and cause harm to lots of my friends in the town, and to sneak the proposal through at Christmas is underhand.”
Matthew Pescott Frost, from Matthew Douglas Independent Financial Advice, in Hadleigh town centre, said: “If the council is serious in their ambition to ‘Invest in Hadleigh’ then creating yet another barrier to entry for passing trade is clearly not a good place to start. It is incumbent upon all of us who live in this town and wish to promote our high street to make this a desirable shopping experience and a place that is a pleasure to spend time in.
“I implore the council to rethink this destructive decision.”
Sudbury Town Council called an extraordinary meeting to discuss the plans on Monday.
Mayor of Sudbury and county councillor Jack Owen said: "I think it is a disgraceful act. I think the timing of it is despicable.
"You would have to drag me through the burning fires of hell before I would vote for parking charges in Sudbury. "
Many of the councillors raised concerns that the charges would simply drive shoppers away from Sudbury to other places like Bury St Edmunds or Ipswich.
Either that or shoppers would only visit the last remaining free car parks in the town, which would be at the supermarkets which sit largely outside the town centre.
The council’s cabinet is due to consider the matter as part of its budget proposals on January 7. Council leader John Ward said it was a matter of course to revisit parking charges every year as part of the budget-setting process.
“There will be a full explanation as to what we are doing and why we are doing it, and there are a number of reasons,” he said.
“Last year collectively the car parks in Babergh made a loss £320,000 – we cannot sustain that anymore with the government reducing support and limits on council tax increases. It is long overdue and it is very unfortunate that it coincides with Covid.”
Mr Ward urged caution on some of the speculation around the proposals which have not yet been published, and said there “won’t be a complete elimination of free parking,” adding that a timeline for any changes would be clearly mapped out as “nothing is going to be immediate”.
“There will be a full explanation as to what we are doing and why we are doing it, and there are a number of reasons.," he said.