Happy New Year to you all.

I was very fortunate to be able to see in the New Year from a balcony very high up overlooking the Ipswich waterfront. What a spectacular scene it was when all the fireworks went off at midnight. I expected to see some but not nearly as many as I did. I have had the privilege of being on the House of Commons terrace one year to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks in London but honestly feel that this year in Ipswich was more impressive and poignant. There are not many places in the country that can boast a NYE fireworks experience like that.

Clearly, it is going to be a very big year ahead and I have already hit the ground running in 2024 and this will continue at pace throughout.

As many of you will know recently, I carried out a survey about the town centre. Around one third of my constituents have been mailed a copy of this survey and we have received a large number of responses, most of which I have personally recorded myself. Sadly, cost and logistics mean that I was not able to send one to everyone but the sample I have received gives me a pretty good sense as to where people are at on a number of key issues. However, I am not for a moment claiming the results are “scientific”. If you are a constituent and would like a copy of the survey, please email me on: tom@tom4ipswich.com.

We have almost inputted all of the returns, so the key themes have become clear. I won’t cover everything this week but will touch upon a few items of interest. There was one question about car parking charges in my survey, “Do you think Town centre car parking charges decided upon by the Labour led council are currently too high?”. The answer to this question was unequivocal. In total 76.81% thought they were too high, 10.42% think they’re acceptable and 12.76% are undecided or unsure. It seems from the comments made that many of those who said they were undecided or don’t know, actually don’t drive.

I think it is therefore fair to say that there is a strong view in the town, shared by many, that the car parking charges that the Labour Ipswich Borough Council set are currently too high. However, I must also add that in my survey I had a question about what top two issues (out of a choice of seven) would make the biggest difference when it comes to attracting you to the town centre. Lower car parking charges are currently only fifth of the seven, with four other issues being seen as more important. These four are, the need for the police to take more of a zero-tolerance approach to crime and anti-social behaviour, boosting police presence, fewer empty units, and a better quality of shops.

Having said this, I do believe that car parking charges are an important issue when it comes to how we can support our town centre and it has long been my view that they are too high. I believe the charges overall that IBC set should be reduced. It is clear that for some this really would make a difference when it comes to attracting shoppers back into our town centre and the Borough Council should explore all options and possibilities.

I say all of this whilst having sympathy for the fact that all council’s need to balance their budgets. When one of the biggest issues that the borough council has is the responsibility of rejuvenating the town centre, I just don’t think that car parking charges should be the way to prop up their finances. There really must be another way.

There are plenty of examples across the region of different councils achieving success for their town and city centres by cutting parking charges or scrapping them completely. All avenues should be explored when it comes to the ways we can look to support our town centre and reducing parking charges should be one of them.

Tom Hunt is Conservative MP for Ipswich