Town's visitor numbers 'falling'

A COUNCIL leader has defended his authority's track record over car parking charges after traders and opposition councillors said the tariffs were continuing to drive people away from their market town.

By John Howard

A COUNCIL leader has defended his authority's track record over car parking charges after traders and opposition councillors said the tariffs were continuing to drive people away from their market town.

Duncan Macpherson, a Mid Suffolk councillor for Stowmarket, said numbers of visitors to car parks in the town had fallen by 3,400 a year, to about 50,000 visits.

This followed a drop of more than 3,000 in the previous year, he added, claiming the charges had hit the town's viability.


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But Tim Passmore, Conservative leader of the authority, said prices had been frozen for several years following a “large” increase to cut debts inherited from the previous administration and said the council was committed to regenerating the town.

There are five council owned car parks in the town with the cost of parking ranging between 50p and £2.50.

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Traders say that shops are struggling and they want to see parking charges cut and free parking zones in the main thoroughfare introduced for up to 15 minutes.

Pat Bewley, a shop assistant who has worked at B V Hicks Electrical in the town centre for 18 years and serves as a parish councillor at neighbouring Stowupland, said: “The charges are definitely not helping -this community has changed for the worst.

“We used to have grocery shops, more butchers, more pubs; it used to be all retail; now there are estate agents, charity shops.

“Most businesses in the town are finding it difficult, although we are holding our own. Charges should be reduced, it's got out of hand.”

Mr Macpherson said: “Conservative mid Suffolk council has done well out of this, gaining income at the expense of local businesses, local shoppers and local workers.

“We warned the council that this move would damage Stowmarket. The town is working hard to regenerate itself, and it doesn't help when the district council sucks so much money out and reduces the number of people coming in.

“No other town in mid Suffolk has car parking charges. People in Stowmarket will be wondering why they are being made to subsidise everybody else.”

But Tim Passmore, Conservative leader of the authority, said: “The large increase in prices nearly four years ago was due to the financial deficits of £1.8m inherited from the previous Labour/Liberal administration.

“This situation has now been resolved which is why there has been no increase for the past five years. There is no intention to raise car parking further at present and the regeneration of Stowmarket is a central theme for the administration for the next four years.”

Mr Passmore added that the Conservative administration has ploughed £100,000 into regenerating the town, with improvements to the centre currently being undertaken including new paving and seating.

john.howard@eadt.co.uk

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