'We should do everything we can to protect our high street' - Labour group on proposed parking charges
PUBLISHED: 17:33 06 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:08 07 February 2020
More free parking schemes should be considered for Bury St Edmunds, Labour members of West Suffolk Council have said ahead of a crunch meeting to discuss scrapping a popular scheme.
Proposals to increase parking charges and scrap the Free from 3pm initiative on Tuesdays in the town have been met with a wave of opposition from businesses and members of the public.
Drawn up by the West Suffolk Parking Review Group, they will be discussed by West Suffolk Council's cabinet on Tuesday, February 11, before members make a decision.
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Previously Mark Cordell, chief executive of the Ourburystedmunds Business Improvement District (BID) group, said putting prices up and taking away the free parking scheme would be a "double whammy".
Diane Hind, leader of the Labour Group at West Suffolk Council, said Labour councillors believed Free from 3pm should be kept and alternative, and additional, days should also be considered as should exploring other incentives that might bring people into our towns.
A spokesman for Conservative-controlled West Suffolk Council said its overview and scrutiny committee had asked cabinet to look at how much it would cost not only to keep, but also to extend Free from 3pm, which also operates in Brandon.
Mrs Hind said: "Bury St Edmunds is a comparatively healthy town with a mix of shops, cinemas, restaurants etc but, being the hub of an essentially rural area, the way that people come into town is critical.
"Bus services to most villages are minimal or non-existent and even in town there are very few buses in the evening, which leaves the car as the only option.
"At a time when high streets generally are suffering from decline everything that can be done to protect ours should be done - a key part of which is easy and cheap parking."
She added: "A dead town centre brings trouble usually. A thriving town keeps much trouble away."
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The largest increases put forward by the parking review group include a daily ticket of £4 at the Parkway multi-storey car park for Monday to Friday, compared to £2.70 currently, and its recommendations also include scrapping the £1 night charge and extending the normal charging tariff to 8pm.
Mrs Hind said the Labour Group on West Suffolk Council believed car parking charges should not rise by more than 10p per session. And while agreeing the evening charge should be scrapped, they want the day period to end at 7pm provided four hours parking is retained in the Cattle Market car park.
"Overpricing parking will simply lead to drivers forsaking the car parks and parking in residential streets," Mrs Hind said.
She described the plan to limit parking at the Cattle Market car park to three hours as "ridiculous," mentioning the difficulties this would pose for nearby concert hall performers and audience members.
The Labour group also believes Bury should have a park and ride, perhaps using electric buses.
Peter Stevens, cabinet member for operations which includes car parks, said: "Car parking tariffs are a mechanism for managing demand including the availability and turnover of spaces to support the town centre economy.
"While demand fluctuates throughout the year, it's robust to the extent that the 4,000 spaces we operate in Bury St Edmunds are close to capacity at Saturday lunchtimes.
"The income generated from our car parks pays towards CCTV, street cleaning, and other work to ensure our town centres are clean and safe places where people want to be. It pays for the maintenance and staffing of our car parks.
"We also pay close to £1million of business rates on our car parks which also makes us one of the biggest contributors to the Business Improvement Districts and the work that they do to encourage town centre footfall and spend."
He said the council is mindful of the challenges facing high streets nationally, adding this is why it continued to invest in its town centres, for example by bringing the Arc shopping centre to Bury.
Referring to a petition of more than 2,000 names for two days free parking in Bury, Mr Stevens said that proposal would effectively have to be underwritten to the tune of £1m for the year.
"I for one am looking forward to better understanding how this would work as I wouldn't want to see cuts made to those important town centre services that car parking income helps support," he added.