Proposals for a 50 per cent price hike at Sidmouth’s busiest car parks – and to make free facilities pay-and-display – ‘could spell disaster for the town centre’.
East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) plans have been branded as ‘astronomical’, ‘absurd’ and may be ‘the final nail in the coffin’ for some struggling traders, it has been warned.
Motorists will also have to fork out to stop-off at sites in the evenings or overnight.
The authority is reviewing parking tariffs across the district in a move which could earn it an extra £400,000 a year.
Sidmouth’s popular Ham East and West, Roxburgh and Mill Street car parks could see their hourly rate raised from £1 to £1.50. An evening rate of £1 would also be introduced at the four sites.
Free car parks in Temple Street and at Blackmore Gardens would become pay-and-display under the proposals – along with those in Newton Poppleford and Sidbury.
Temple Street, currently free for two hours, would operate as a short-stay pay-and-display car park.
The same would apply to Blackmore Gardens – with ‘special arrangements’ for health centre and library users.
The School Lane site in Newton Poppleford would become a long-stay pay-and-display car park.
Sidbury’s Manor Farm Estate facility would become exclusive to permit holders or resident reserved spaces.
Sidmouth/Sidford ward member Councillor Stuart Hughes today slammed the ‘absolutely absurd’ proposals.
He added: “This could spell disaster for our town centre here in Sidmouth. Businesses rely on local residents’ footfall as well as visitors.
“These proposed astronomical charges, along with introduction of pay-and-display in important local centres such as Temple Street, could drive the final nail in the coffin for those already struggling to keep their heads above the water.
“I have already been approached by one Temple Street trader who is organising a petition and I shall be making sure their, and our town’s, views on this are known at Blackdown House in Honiton.”
Cllr Hughes’ fellow Conservatives on EDDC have vowed to oppose the ‘wholly inappropriate’ proposals.
Leader of the East Devon Conservative Group, Cllr Andrew Moulding, said: “There is only so much juice you can squeeze out of a lemon.”
EDDC currently manages a portfolio of 50 car parks and is reviewing its tariffs for 2019/20.
The proposed changes will go before its cabinet on Wednesday, October 2, with a view to them going out to public consultation.
A 50 per cent rise in charges – from £1 to £1.50 per hour – is also being proposed for a dozen car parks in ‘prime areas’.
The sites where spaces are said to be ‘at a premium’ are in Honiton, Exmouth, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Axminster, Seaton and Beer.
It is hoped the increase will ease congestions and see drivers use ‘less-popular’ car parks.
Members have been told eight free-of-charge public car parks in Exmouth, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Newton Poppleford, Sidbury and Broadclyst should become pay-and-display.
EDDC will also consider offloading facilities to town and parish councils in an ‘asset transfer’.
Most EDDC car parks operate on £1 per hour tariffs.
Costs at coastal long-stay facilities are capped at £6 for 24 hours, inland long-stay sites at £3 for 24 hours, and short-stay car parks at £3 for four hours.
In a report to cabinet members, the council’s service lead says: “The £1 per hour tariff has been in place now since 2010 and we have consistently resisted increasing it to ensure that we continue to provide the best possible support for our town centre economies.
“However, we are under increasing pressure to review our activities and move to a position where we are managing all of our car parking assets responsibly and transparently.
“Officers have identified a number of opportunities for consideration here that we believe reflect current good management practice in the car parking sector and will assist us in better strategic management of our off-street parking assets.
“In consequence of these changes, we anticipate that some modest increases in charges will deliver a significant increase in the contribution that car parking fees and charges make to our general fund.”