COUNCIL plans to spend £3million on expanding Crescent Road car park have been likened to ‘investing in canals in 1820’ by opponents.

Members of the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council cabinet voted to approve the expenditure, which will result in 96 extra parking bays and 26 cycling stands, at a meeting last week.

The expansion will be timed to take place during a major refurbishment of the 1960’s structure, estimated to cost approximately £2.8million.

A cabinet report justifies the spend, by stating out of the 2,866 spaces available in town centre car parks, only 846 are available for short stay visitor parking, adding: “[This is] not so many for a town like Tunbridge Wells, particularly when we look at the planned expansion of the town in the short to medium term.”

In addition, there are fears the town will lose its attractiveness to businesses, citing an enquiry made by an unnamed local employer wanting to lease 100 bays.

“The availability of parking space for new potential employers in town could determine whether or not the town is right for them.”

But the report’s rationale was dismissed Tunbridge Wells Bicycle User’s Group (TWBUG) spokesman Paul Mason, who was invited to speak at the meeting.

“We can’t have economic growth and tell people they can’t come to Tunbridge Wells”

Mr Mason said: “We believe this is an investment of several million pounds in increased town centre congestion.

“By the invest pays for itself use of the private motor vehicle will almost certainly be on the decline. Already out town centre car parks are not full for a good deal of the time.”

Comparing the plans with those who invest invested in an obsolete technology in the decade before the first railways, Mr Mason said: “So let us not invest in canals, like people did in 1820, let us not make that mistake again.”

He was supported in opposition by Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Lidstone, who said the business case was ‘not robust enough’.

“Extensions are necessary when buildings reach capacity. However, town centre car parks are significantly under-capacity at around 74 per cent.

“This is based on the assumption all season ticket holders use their space every day, and that people don’t leave before their ticket expires. I suggest real usage of capacity is significantly lower.

“The payback period is 30 years and this is reliant on 100 occupancy. The cost benefit analysis falls down if all we are doing is moving existing customers from other car parks.”

He also said it was ‘disappointing’ that the proposals do not include charging points for electric vehicles.

However, Cllr David Reilley, cabinet member for finance and governance, said: “We can’t have economic growth and tell people they can’t come to Tunbridge Wells as there is nowhere to park. If you do so, you will kick economic growth out of the window.”

Full council will have the final say on September 27. No start date has been given in the event of approval, however it is believed the project will take 12 months and could lead to a temporary reduction in capacity of a quarter.