The Borough Council has had a change of heart about the proposed increases in town centre parking. It has decided to halve the planned hike.
In August, the proposed rate for one hour of parking was set to rise to £1.80, a 40p increase. But now, after further deliberation and public feedback, the Council agreed to a £1.60 rate.
The controversial increases were unanimously approved to go forward to public consultation in a Borough Council Cabinet meeting last week.
Members of the public are now invited to make their opinions heard on the proposed changes, which will see rises in hourly rates, season tickets and resident’s permits.
These proposals represent a compromise from both sides of the debate, after the issue proved particularly divisive in the council.
Although the average price rise is 10 per cent, short-term users are facing a greater increase. For example, a stay of two hours or less will see a 40p increase – constituting a rise of 16.7 per cent.
Council Leader David Jukes welcomed the compromise, whilst reminding the Cabinet that it was ‘no secret’ that he had been consistently against any increase in rates.
Nonetheless, he conceded that the final proposals were in line with inflation and ‘not the hardship that everybody thought it was going to be’.
An extra £698,000 in revenue is expected for the council, which will go towards funding improvements in parking around the town, including free Wi-Fi and contactless card payment machines, although Cllr Jukes admitted he expects residents will find the upgrades to be of little consolation.
“I doubt very much that we will get a favourable review,” he said. “But at least we are doing the very best to look after not just our council tax payers but also our business rate payers.”
The proposed increases have proved unsettling for certain sections of the town. Cllr Julian Stanyer, of Speldhurst and Bidborough, has argued that the ‘fragile state of the retail industry’ means ‘greater sensitivity should be shown towards parking charges’.
However, the Council’s Parking Manager, Rosemarie Bennett, has looked to quell concerns, arguing that in the past increased tariffs have ‘not affected’ car park usage.
The process is scheduled to last for three weeks, starting on Friday (September 30) when public comment can be made on the Council website, followed by a discussion of potential amendments. The changes are expected to come into effect in April 2017.