Councillors raged for nearly two hours at proposals to hike car parking charges and introduce tariffs for the first time at East Devon’s free car parks.
Proposals that went before East Devon District Council’s cabinet on Wednesday night would have seen eight car parks have parking charges imposed for the first time, a 50 per cent increase on tariffs in 12 car parks, and night charges introduced in 12 car parks.
In total, a record breaking 24 councillors spoke to slam the plans. After nearly two hours of debate, the cabinet agreed to put forward plans for consultation that would see a 20 per cent rise in car parking charges in 12 car parks, and for discussion around introducing night time charges and to end free parking in the eight free car parks as part of the consultation.
One by one though, councillors stood up and fumed against the plans which they said would put the final nail in the coffin of the high street and drive people to use out of town shopping centres.
But opposition councillors said that they would be calling in the decision at full council later this month and that as the ruling Independent group, who only have 19 of the 60 seats on the council, and whose nine cabinet members had at once stage put forward five different amendments to the recommendation, they warned they should pull the item from debate ‘as they will lose’.
WHICH PROPOSALS WILL BE CONSULTED ON?
Car parks that are currently available for public parking without charge
Car parking charges at the Upper Station car park in Budleigh Salterton, Brook Road car park in Budleigh Salterton, The Green car park in Broadclyst, School Lane car park in Newton Poppleford, Jarvis Close car park in Exmouth, Temple Street car park in Sidmouth, Blackmore Gardens car park in Sidmouth (with special arrangements for health centre and library users) and Manor Farm Estate car park in Sidbury will be looked at.
Car parks that are currently available for evening parking without charge
The Lace Walk short stay car park in Honiton, West Street short stay car park in Axminster, Orchard car park in Seaton, Central car park short stay in Beer, Rolle Mews car park in Budleigh Salterton, Ham East, Ham West, Roxburgh and Mill Street in Sidmouth, and the London Inn, Imperial Road and Exmouth Pavilion car parks in Exmouth could see charges introduced in the evening.
Car parks where demand is high
The proposal is to introduce a 20 per cent tariff increase in these car parks. The hourly charge will rise to £1.20 per hour, but there will be a £1 per hour tariff still available in at least one nearby car park.
The car parks this would affect are the Lace Walk short stay car park in Honiton, West Street short stay car park in Axminster, Orchard car park in Seaton, Central car park short stay in Beer, Rolle Mews car park in Budleigh Salteron, Ham East, Ham West, Roxburgh and Mill Street in Sidmouth, and the London Inn, Imperial Road and Queens Drive car parks in Exmouth.
WHY DID THE COUNCIL WISH TO MAKE CHANGES TO THE TARIFFS?
Andrew Ennis, service lead, said the tariff changes could increase revenue for the council by up to £400,000 a year and higher tariffs will encourage people to use the less popular and less expensive car parks which will alleviate some of the parking stress in the towns
He said: “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.”
Cllr Geoff Pook, cabinet member for asset management, added: “The vast majority of car parks won’t change from £1 per hour and there have been no increases since 2010.”
WHY WERE PEOPLE OPPOSED TO THEM?
James McLean, who runs Sidmouth Pets said that the plans to introduce pay-and-display parking at the Temple Street car park could be terminal for his business.
He said: “Given the current state of the high street, this is not the time to put up prices and if implemented, it could be terminal for my business and others on Temple Street. We rely on the 11 free spaces in the car park and our customers won’t be happy to pay for parking for just a five-minute shop.”
He said that a petition in his shop has already seen 400 names sign it, and that when presented at full council, he hopes it will have thousands of names on it.
Cllr Andrew Moulding, leader of the Conservative Group, said: “The increases in revenue depends on the customer’s reaction to it and I don’t think you need me to tell you what that will be, and if this is a modest, please don’t tell me what less modest increase would be. These charges are beyond belief. The high streets are suffering and this could be the death knell for some businesses. Will this be the last straw for business and a bitter pill for residents? We cannot support the recommendations.”
Cllr Stuart Hughes said he was stunned when he read the proposals and that they will put the final nail in the coffin of what once was a vibrant local centre in Temple Street that in recent years has seen a renaissance.
He added: “Please bin this ill-thought out proposal. The town centre will be badly hit and the hikes will either drive people out of town or they will look for an elusive kerbside space.”
Cllr Marianne Rixson said that her calculations were that introducing charges in Temple Street could raise £5.50 per day, which ‘wouldn’t even cover the cost of installing the parking machine, let alone the cost of someone to empty it’. She added: “This won’t work and more people will take a chance and not pay.”
Cllr Marcus Hartnell said that a survey in 2018 said that 91 per cent of people in East Devon thought the current tariffs were right, so why are we ignoring their wishes? He said: “This is a kick in the teeth for shops and businesses and will harm the fragile economy of shops. It will force people to buy online and use out of town shops that have free parking.”
Concerns were raised by Cllr Paul Millar that the 50 per cent increase hits the least well off and that if the proposals were introduced for Exmouth, people would go to Tesco rather than using the local shops.
He added: “We should reduce the cost of car parking in the least popular car parks as I think that they will bring more people into the towns and use them.”
Cllr Mike Allen said that while the idea was very well presented, it was a bad idea, Cllr Jack Rowland said it was short-sighted as the council could lose more business rates than they gain in extra revenue, while Cllr Vicky Johns said that it will just push people to parking in residential areas which would be ‘absolute bedlam’.
Cllr Mike Howe added: “This will hurt the town centres and villages and the poorest in the society as those with money will pay anything. You should take a pause, review the situation, and come back with better plans that have a strategic and proper planned way of making the car parks pay.
“Because of the majority view of the council, you should pull this item, as it will fail.”
Cllr Philip Skinner said that given that no one has spoken in support of the proposals, he didn’t know how it could get through at full council, and that he would be asking for a recorded vote on it.
WHAT DID THE CABINET SAY?
Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, said: “We aren’t doing this for fun, we’re not doing this to upset our communities. We are doing this to fill a gap that we’ve inherited.”
“If we don’t fill the gap, then we will have to explain to those people that their council tax has to be increased.”
Cllr Ian Thomas, portfolio holder for finance, added: “We have a significant funding gap to meet and to not look to meet some of it from a parking asset that has not kept pace with inflation is wrong.”
He said that it was illogical to charge the same amount for a congested town centre car park as one empty one further away. He described it as being akin to a supermarket shelf full of alcohol and that you wouldn’t price the best champagne as the same you charge for a cheap wine for students, as if you did, you would sell out of the champagne and only have the cheap stuff left.
He said: “It is reasonable to look for some pricing variations, but some of the points are salient and people will never say that they want their car park to go up. But I’ve cracked it, as in the wilds of Trinity, we don’t have any car parks.”
Cllr Thomas proposed increasing the tariff from £1 an hour to £1.20, not £1.50, but that as more information was needed on how the costs would be covered, to not introduce tariffs in the evening, and that the 15 first minutes would be free.
WHAT OTHER PROPOSALS WERE SUGGESTED?
Cllr Geoff Jung said that while he did support evening tariffs and introducing pay-and-display charges at some car parks which are currently free to use, the increase from a £1 to £1.50 was a step too far, and Cllr Jess Bailey said that while £1.50 may be too high, we do have to consider an increase.
Cllr Peter Faithfull said if a business whacked their price up by this much, then people would go somewhere else. He added: “We need to go away and have a proper look as up like this is silly.”
Cllr Kevin Blakey said that there shouldn’t be any free parking in East Devon as there is a cost of maintaining the assets, and the council needs to recoup some of the costs by charging.
He proposed that the currently free car parks could have a concessionary rate of £1 per hour, and then £1 for a period of up to 12 hours, adding: “It is a way of softening the blow and then we can review it in two years’ time.”
Cllr Ingham though suggested that a gradual increase should be imposed over a four year period so it gave people a chance to adjust to the changes and Cllr Pook said that it should be imposed over a two year period, but neither proposal saw a seconder.
The cabinet eventually agreed to consult on introducing pay-and-display charges at some car parks which are currently free to use, to consult on considering introducing a night time parking charge of £1, and that to add 20 per in the pound on parking charges in the Lace Walk short stay car park in Honiton, West Street short stay car park in Axminster, Orchard car park in Seaton, Central car park short stay in Beer, Rolle Mews car park in Budleigh Salteron, Ham East, Ham West, Roxburgh and Mill Street in Sidmouth, and the London Inn, Imperial Road and Queens Drive car parks in Exmouth.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The cabinet’s proposals will go forward to full council on October 23 for the minutes to be ratified.
However, opposition councillors made it clear that they would be calling the minute for debate and to put forward alternative proposals.
With the Independent Group who run the council only having 19 of the 60 seats, and with Conservatives, the East Devon Alliance and the Liberal Democrats and Cllr Millar, who hold 39 seats, stating they would vote against the proposals, it is expected that the proposals will be voted down.