Controversial cut to free parking could be revised
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Controversial plans to slash free parking in Babergh from three hours to 30 minutes could be revised, following the intervention of councillors.
Babergh District Council's scrutiny committee has recommended that one hour of free parking remains at most car parks, instead of just 30 minutes.
It has also asked that any changes are not implemented before September 2021, rather than July 2021 as planned.
Those proposals were approved by three votes to two following a lengthy three-hour debate on Monday morning, after counter proposals for two hours free parking to remain only received two votes in favour and three against.
Those recommendations will now go to the council's cabinet on February 4 for a decision.
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Independent councillor Alastair McCraw, chairman of the scrutiny committee who put forward the revisions, said: "The sums involved - 50p, £1, £2 are not large.
"Does this deter people from parking? I don't think in my honest opinion that a current parking rate with three hours free is sustainable. One hour free is generous."
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Mr McCraw pointed to the modelling data carried out by officers last year, which indicated that the average length of stay was 64 minutes.
The committee has also recommended that a strategic parking review for the district starts in the summer.
The cabinet had planned to decide on revised proposals earlier this month, but agreed to push back a decision to February so the matter could be debated in full.
It has attracted a swathe of opposition from the district's key towns in Sudbury and Hadleigh, where it has been argued that businesses need all the support they can get in recovering from the Covid-19 fallout, and reducing free parking would put customers off visiting.
Councillors Kathryn Grandon and Sian Dawson both questioned why ward councillors and town and parish councils were not involved in discussions.
"This is a very contentious subject in the district so it would be seen as good practice to involve our public," Mrs Grandon said.
According to the council, the existing arrangements leave the authority with an annual deficit of £185,000 from subsidising free parking, which also meant it was unable to carry out necessary upgrades to signs, ticket machines and resurfacing of those facilities.
Conservative cabinet member for the environment at Babergh's rainbow coalition, Elisabeth Malvisi, said: "To make our car parks move towards a position where they are able to stand alone without incurring costs to be borne by Babergh taxpayers, then something different has to be done.
"The claim that free parking will bring people into the town centre is a fallacy - people will travel if the offering is what they want."