Plans to cut free parking in Paddock Wood from two hours to one will have a ‘devastating impact’ on the town, it was warned this week. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s cabinet voted for the changes at a meeting last Thursday.
The council said cutting free parking in its Commercial Road car park from two hours to one, with 40p charged for the second, was required to ‘balance the books’.
Ralph Oxborrow and Richard Barsley, of the Paddock Wood Business Association, argued traders would suffer.
Mr Oxborrow said: “It was discussed at the cabinet meeting in 2013, the devastating effect the loss of even one-hour free parking would have on local businesses.
“The two-hour free parking allows members of the community to visit shops and enjoy cafes without having to clock-watch.”
He added that a similar decision in Folkestone during 2012 had resulted in a 30 per cent drop in turnover to local businesses within two months. Major changes were later made to the scheme.
Mr Barsley argued the association had agreed to work with TWBC in 2013 on reducing the shortfall for running the car park, which was then an annual loss of £22,500.
He said a proposal to introduce a car wash, expected to make £9,000 annually, had been ‘keenly accepted’ by the borough council in June.
He added: “The business association were then told on November 3 we needed to make at least £20,000 profit to cover the cost of resurfacing and surplus profit to support council funding.
“I ask is this the behaviour of a fair and democratic local government?”
TWBC leader David Jukes said Paddock Wood Town Council had been offered the opportunity to take over the running of the car park three years ago but ‘didn’t want to know’.
He mentioned Tunbridge Wells, where previous ‘modifications’ to parking had led to fears of an exodus of shoppers, which proved unfounded, as the town now has a lack of spaces.
Cllr Jukes added: “The philosophy behind your argument, which I understand totally, doesn’t work. Perhaps you should go to your town council and ask them to take it over and put the money on the precept?
“Our grant from government has been reduced by 50 per cent and is set to come down by another eight per cent per annum for the foreseeable future until it reaches zero.
“We have not got the money. We are doing everything we can to raise revenue or reduce expenditure.
“We cannot keep going on subsidising these matters just for one particular outfit.”
TWBC finance director Lee Colyer added: “In 2010, we undertook a consultation and asked the public to engage with us on how to fund discretionary services.
“Either all taxpayers across the borough should continue to fund these services or users of the services should fund them. And the overwhelming response was for the latter to pay for them.”