Parking plans will

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to introduce parking fees in a historic market town will have a “devastating” effect on trade by forcing customers elsewhere, retailers have warned.

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to introduce parking fees in a historic market town will have a “devastating” effect on trade by forcing customers elsewhere, retailers have warned.

The claim comes as plans to bring in charges in Newmarket move one step closer to becoming a reality, with Forest Heath District Council due to vote on the contentious issue on Wednesday.

Traders say the proposals, for fees ranging between 30p for two hours and £2.25 for up to 24 hours, will hit low-paid workers the hardest, while pushing out shoppers who value the town's currently free provision.

And they claim a recommendation to approve the plans, which comes just days after a parish poll saw 91% of voters express views against charging, proves the council is “hell bent” on introducing the levy.

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However, officials from a council working group, which has made the recommendations, say bringing in fees is the only viable way to help manage the provision of spaces in a town where massive parking problems already exist.

“The council is hell bent on bringing in charges regardless of what the people of Newmarket think or what a devastating effect it will have on trade and employees,” said Jamie Gaskin, manager of Tindalls Stationers on the High Street.

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“The costs are going to be astronomical for any low paid workers and there is so much strength of feeling in the town about this.

“Free parking is a major attraction for Newmarket, and so many customers have told us they might as well go to Cambridge or Bury St Edmunds, which have a far greater choice of shops, if charging is introduced.

“The council says it is all for a vibrant town centre, but I cannot see, from any aspect, that bringing in car parking charges will be a positive thing which will help Newmarket forward.”

During the parish poll, around 860 people turned out to vote, with 70 in favour of the proposals and 794 against.

Mr Gaskin added: “Regardless of the turnout, 91% of the vote was against charges. It is totally frustrating, especially when certain councillors had already said they would ignore the result anyhow. It does not say much for democracy.”

But Robin Millar, vice chairman of the working party, said careful consideration had been given before the recommendations were made to full council, and said a realistic alternative to manage parking without the need for charging had not been found.

“The parish poll told us nothing new, and has not added to the argument as it has not helped us solve the problem of parking in Newmarket,” he said. “This is the only viable option.

“It is going to cost some people, and cause inconvenience for others, but it is a question of doing what is good for the town and the community.

“I have always said a good community should have good politicians, and good politicians should do the right thing, which is not always the popular thing. Policies should not be made based on who shouts the loudest, but by listening carefully to what people are saying.”

Mr Millar said the proposals had received support from residents, who have had difficult parking outside their own homes because workers, who cannot find a space in car parks, use the roadways instead.

“Every major retail centre around us will be charging soon, and many already do. It is a national trend,” he added.

“I would rather pay 30p with the knowledge I will definitely have a parking space than come to town on the off chance that free spaces will be available.”

Members are due to vote at an extraordinary council meeting on Wednesday. If passed, Mr Millar said fees would not be introduced until alternative provision is made for long-term parking on the edge of town, which is unlikely to happen until next year.

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