Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Council Budget (1) - car parking charges

I thought that I would accept the invitation sent to me as a local businessman to attend the council budget briefing this morning with leader Cllr Ron Woodley, Chief Executive Rob Tinlin and Head of Finance Joe Chesterton which took place at the Forum.

It was strange being on the other side of the fence as in previous years I chaired this meeting. It was noticeable that more of the presentation and questions were dealt with by Rob and Joe than usual but I suppose this reflects that Ron is new to the job and is no doubt still trying to get to grips with the peculiarities of local government finance.

Over the next few weeks I will be commenting on various aspects of a budget which was remarkably lack lustre. I had been so used to hearing Ron say that he could deliver massive savings by cutting red tape that his inability to do so was surprising – or perhaps not!

I wasn’t intending to ask anything but was surprised at how easy going the audience was in the face of some debatable proposals. Perhaps it reflects the limited number of currently active local businessmen who had the opportunity to attend.

We heard about the concerns the administration has with regard to supporting enterprise and economic growth (to include the town centre), which raised an obvious question on car parking charges. The Administration proposes a range of parking charge increases which is some cases are quite heavy. By way of example the cost of staying for 3 hours in the Town Centre, in a car park or in an on road bay, is likely to increase by about 20%! In circumstances where the High Street is clearly suffering, the % of voids and short leases is becoming very concerning, the traders are already forced to pay into the BID funding services that many would argue are really the responsibility of the council, and there is a perception that car parking charges are already too high, this proposal is a real kick in the teeth. It will raise a quite limited amount in the context of the overall savings and as with all rises risks reducing income by driving away users.

The response was that they knew the High Street was in trouble but they would increase charges this year and would introduce some measures to provide support next year. Let’s hope they are not too late! There was also a reference to Brighton which is hardly a like for like comparison.

I also find it strange that their proposals mean that the charges to stay for up to an hour in Thorpe Bay (the favourite haunt of Ron and his ward colleague Martin Terry who has responsibility for overseeing these charges), and for up to 2 hours at the Civic Centre are frozen. Why? If they are suggesting that potentially damaging hikes are required why not apply them to all – or is a case of all car parks being equal but some more equal than others.

This is a bad proposal and a cheap shot at those fighting to defend and develop the Town Centre.

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