Driving forces behind plans for a 50 per cent price hike at Exmouth’s busiest car parks have been accused of treating residents as ‘cash cows’.
East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) proposals have been slammed as ‘astronomical’, ‘madness’ and ‘could spell disaster’ for the town centre, it has been warned.
A free car park in Littleham will also become pay-and-display under the mooted changes.
The authority is reviewing parking tariffs across the district in a move which could earn it an extra £400,000 a year.
Exmouth’s popular London Inn, Imperial Road and Queen’s Drive car parks could see their hourly rate raised from £1 to £1.50.
A free car park at Jarvis Close, Littleham Cross, would operate as a short-stay pay-and-display site.
An evening rate of £1 would also be introduced at the London Inn, Imperial Road and Exmouth Pavilion facilities.
Exmouth Littleham ward member Councillor Bruce de Saram has hit out at the proposals.
He said EDDC ‘needs to be sensitive to the fact that people who are parking their cars are both residents and council tax payers who expect a good service’.
Cllr de Saram added: “They should not be fleeced in this underhand manner and used as a cash cows.
“It’s absolute madness that the Independent administration at East Devon should even be contemplating hiking car park charges by up to 50 per cent.
“This could spell disaster for our town centre here in Exmouth, whose 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, could drive the final nail in the coffin for those already struggling to keep their heads above the water.”
EDDC says £1-an-hour parking alternatives for motorists will still be available at the Estuary, Imperial Recreation Ground, Camperdown Terrace, Queen’s Drive Echelon, Foxholes and Maer Road car parks.
The authority 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 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.
In a report to cabinet members, EDDC’s service lead says: “We manage a number of short-stay car parking assets in prime locations that are extremely popular with our customers, with consequent congestion as motorists drive around looking for (and waiting for) a parking space.
“London Inn short-stay car park in Exmouth is a good example of this. In all cases we have other less-popular car parks in the vicinity that will usually have spaces available.
“We are currently giving serious consideration to the challenge of providing suitable and sufficient electric vehicle charging infrastructure around East Devon to support what we believe will become an increasing number of visitors and residents who will be choosing to drive electric (or plug-in hybrid) vehicles over the next few years.
“At present, charging infrastructure requires a significant investment amounting to around £6,000 per parking bay.
“Our proposal is therefore to introduce a 50 per cent tariff increase in these most popular car park locations.
“We anticipate that the higher tariff will encourage some customers to switch to our less popular (and less expensive) car parks thereby alleviating some of the parking stress at the most popular locations.
“The additional revenue generated will then be of value within our overall careful choices programme and subject to the usual considerations, the council would be able to consider reinvesting some of that money in accelerating our programme of delivering charging infrastructure locally.
“We propose to increase the hourly charge in the busiest car parks to £1.50 per hour whilst retaining the current £1 per hour tariff in at least one nearby alternative car park.”
The officer added: “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.”
Cllr de Saram’s fellow Tories have vowed to oppose the 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.”
Most EDDC car parks currently operate on £1 per hour tariffs.