Despite pleas from business and community leaders in Bury St Edmunds not to increase car parking charges in the town some are set to rise by 50% from April.
However, there is a big sigh of relief as the “Free from 3” initiative on Tuesday afternoons will remain and so too will the evening charge (£1 after 6pm) rather than extending the day tariff to 8pm and scrapping the evening charge.
West Suffolk Council gave the go ahead to the price rises last night, Tuesday, February 11, at a meeting of the Cabinet in Mildenhall.
That came after an impassioned plea by Mark Cordell, the chief executive officer of the town’s Business Improvement District (BID) group, who was given just three minutes to outline his case.
He said it would have a detrimental effect on businesses in the town centre which is facing its lowest ever footfall and highest number of empty units.
The changes include an increase from £2 to £3 for three hours and £2.70 to £4 for all day at the Parkway decked car park and a rise from £2.30 to £3 for all day at Ram Meadow car park.
Peter Stevens, Cabinet member with responsibility for car parks, described the increases to charges as “modest” and pointed out the council supports the town in many different ways, but Mr Cordell, chief executive of the town’s Business Improvement District (BID) group, said they were “huge” and expressed his disappointment cabinet members had not taken his comments on board.
He said: “How can such an important issue result in me only having three minutes to represent the views of over 400 businesses in Bury St Edmunds. For some this is their livelihood at stake.
“It was clear that their minds were made up before the meeting i.e. tow the party line. Disappointing to hear that a near 50% increase in some car parks described by Cabinet ‘as modest’. Only appeared bothered about balancing the budget not the impact on others.”
And describing his short speech prior to the meeting’s decision he said: “It was a bit like walking out at the Gabba to face a Kookaburra ball in baking hot sun at 95-8 needing 200 to avoid the follow on with Thomson and Lillee refreshed after tea. Giving the impression of a fair contest and I was up for it but there were a few things not in my favour.”
Diane Hind, leader of the Labour Group at the council, noted there had been no discussion on the charges, adding: “I think parking is important to the town, especially if it increases to an extra £7 a week or whatever it is to park – that’s £7 out of your wages”.
Cabinet member Sara Mildmay-White, who chaired the meeting, revealed the council is looking to hold a town centre summit in the spring to discuss the challenges facing town centres and come up with some solutions.
But Mr Cordell added: “With the greatest respect this will be a complete waste of public money and will just be done for appearances sake unless councillors are prepared to listen to the views of others (and I don’t mean me) and to challenge their own preconceived views. Open minds are required.”
A petition calling for two days free parking was not accepted as the council said it would cost more than £1 million to introduce in Bury St Edmunds and would impact on town centre services.
Extending free parking to Wednesday mornings was considered, but as this is the busiest weekday morning it was felt it went against the aims of trying to encourage people in to shop during the quieter periods of the week.
Newmarket, which has experienced growing demand in its car parks, will see investment at three of its car parks as the Cabinet agreed to spend £70,000 on surfacing improvements at Grosvenor Yard, All Saints and Market Square while it will also spend a further £25,000 on making more electric vehicle charging points available.
The “Free from 3” scheme, which also stays in Haverhill, is also to be extended to Newmarket. The council will meet with the Newmarket Business Improvement District to discuss the best weekday to run the initiative.
Mr Stevens added: “We are mindful of the challenges facing high streets nationally. We have announced our intention to hold a high street summit which will gather together partners to look at how we work together to collectively address the various challenges on our high streets. We are continuing to invest in our town centres.
“It is not just the price of parking that attracts people to a town centre, it is the things that the town centre has to offer including its mix of retail, cafes, restaurants, leisure and culture, heritage, markets and events including those run by the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).
“The income generated from our car parks pays towards town centre services 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. The council pays close to £1 million of Business Rates on its car parks and is one of the biggest contributors to the Business Improvement Districts and the work that they do to encourage town centre footfall and spend.”