Free car parks face the chop

MOTORISTS used to free parking could be hit in the pocket as council tax cash problems continue.Babergh District Council is one of just two councils in Suffolk to operate free car parks.

MOTORISTS used to free parking could be hit in the pocket as council tax cash problems continue.

Babergh District Council is one of just two councils in Suffolk to operate free car parks.

But that could soon be at an end as councillors penny pinch in a bid to avoid huge tax hikes.

A second home owners could also be targeted in the ongoing search for new revenue.

Babergh district councillors have agreed to review car parking charges policy.

If they approve the move, parking charges will be introduced at the council's car parks in Sudbury, Hadleigh, Lavenham and Pin Mill by January 2005.

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It has been calculated free parking costs the average council tax payer up to £6 a year for the upkeep of the car parks.

If charges were introduced, they could bring in an annual income of between £328,000 and £395,000, allowing the car parks to break even, or generate a small profit.

The council is considering two options:

n free parking for the first hour, with charges levied for stays of more than one hour

n a 20p charge for a stay of up to two hours, 50p for up to three hours and £1 for long-term parking.

But the decision to consider car parking charges has angered some councillors, who predicted a outcry from businesses and the public.

Nick Irwin, who represents Sudbury North, and David Grutchfield, who represents Hadleigh South, demanded a full consultation and a council debate before any decision was taken.

They were told parish and town councils were being consulted in the next two weeks, with the issue included in the next edition of the council's newspaper, Babergh Matters, and all households getting a questionnaire.

Whether to introduce charging will then be discussed by the council's strategy committee in January and by the full council as part of its budget-setting debate at the end of February.

Babergh District Council is also considering reducing the Council Tax relief to owners of second homes from 50 per cent to 10pc.

There are 500 second homes in the district and it was estimated the reduction of Council Tax relief could generate about £300,000 a year for Babergh District Council, Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Police Authority.

It is hoped a full report on the best options could be ready in time for December's full council meeting or for its strategy committee in early January.

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