A stay of execution on plans to increase car parking charges

It could be good news for traders, businesses and shoppers in Bury St Edmunds as parking increases have been put on a temporary hold.

But the final decision on any changes rest with senior councillors at West Suffolk Council when they meet on February 11.

It’s there that the Cabinet will run the rule over plans to raise charges before any final decision is taken after the scheme was referred to them by the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee last night, Thursday, January 24.

However, it seems more than likely that the authority will slap on increases within the next few years if they don’t agree to any changes next month.

The plans have provoked uproar from traders and residents in Bury, who say the initiative would be highly damaging to the town. An online petition with over 1,700 signatures has also been launched.

The Bury proposals were part of a package of measures across the district that came before the committee and included a series of rises to Bury parking tariffs, as well as scrapping the “Free from 3pm” initiative on Tuesdays at the town centre short stay car parks.

The largest increases put forward by the West Suffolk 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.

The recommendations also include extending the normal charging tariff from 6pm to 8pm thereby hitting those coming into the evening.

The Cabinet will also be asked to look at keeping the “Free from 3” initiative and extending it to include 8am to 12 noon on Wednesday, and to also look at removal of the night charge being moved forward by two hours.

Speaking at the meeting last night Mark Cordell, the chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, said: “The high street in crisis has hit Bury and you only have to look round the town and realise that 2019 was the worst footfall that we had since records began and the level of vacancy rates is above 8% in November, and those of you who walk around the town will know that it’s worse than that now, and we have got three independent businesses closing this month.

“Parking prices discriminate against the low paid. A millionaire and a person on zero hours contract, part time pay the same money and I would urge the council to consider that.

“There are many issues detrimental to the high street at the moment; high business rates, high rates, online trading; most of that none of us can’t influence but one of the things that we can influence is the cost of parking in the town centre when we are a rural location, when the public transport is so poor and when most people’s only option is to come to Bury St Edmunds by car … we need to make them welcome not put them off from coming.

“Our number one priority is to welcome customers to the town and not deter them from coming. This year is one of the most significant years for Bury St Edmunds with the Abbey celebrating its 1000th year, is this the right time to hike car parking charges some of which are 20 to 50% increases?

“More time needs to be taken about considering these prices. If there has got to be price increases they should be staggered over the next two or three years not whacked into year one which is going to have a real impact on the worse off in our communities and when our high street is struggling.”

James Sheen, from the Facebook site “We Really Love Bury St Edmunds”, has been running a petition against the price increases and asking for two free days for parking – one of which would be the mid-week market day – while also extending two free days parking to the whole district, including Brandon, Clare, Haverhill, Mildenhall, and Newmarket.

He said: “We cannot rely on the good will of people coming into the town in the future unless we encourage them to do so. It is far easier to sit at home and order goods online, so that coming to the town must be something to look forward to and be affordable.

“If we want to ensure we stay ahead of the rest and make our lovely town not only historic and interesting but also affordable please think positively for the town to ensure we do not end up like many others with town centres full of empty units.”

Councillor Terry Clements said “Free from 3pm” was to try to encourage the night time economy and Bury has “one of the best night time economies” while councillor Paul Hopfensperger said the removal of the scheme seems to be in “direct conflict” with the council’s economic development remit.

To sign the petition go to chng.it/kC4YHfPF

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