The less than magnificent 17 ... the councillors who support pay parking

PUBLISHED: 10:13 08 January 2016 | UPDATED: 17:51 08 January 2016

City road Car Park.March. Picture: Steve Williams.

City road Car Park.March. Picture: Steve Williams.

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A massive show down on car park charges is expected after it was revealed that 17 of the 39 district councillors favour pay parking in Fenland towns.

SUMMARY

Seventeen Fenland councillors have come out in favour of introducing pay parking into March, Chatteris, Whittlesey and Wisbech.

The (as yet unnamed) councillors signalled their support in a survey completed by all 39 members of Fenland District Council.

The proposals have been widely condemned by some of the remaining 22 councillors but the large number - over 40 per cent- of those in favour could signal a battle within the ruling Conservative group.

Councillors were told pay parking could save £322,500 per annum and generate an annual surplus in excess of £1 million.

But many believe pay parking could sound the death knell for the local economy.

Councillor Jan French said: “I think the 17 councillors should come clean and aDmit who they are.

“Not any of them are on March Town Council, thank goodness.”

The figures were leaked to the Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard following a consultation process at the end of last year.

All 39 councillors and every council tax payer were asked for their views on possible cuts/savings.

With three seats held by Independents and two by Lib Dems – all likely to be against- it still means the Tory controlled council is only three votes short of pressing ahead with car park charges if it decided to risk it.

However so contentious is the issue – and so vehemently opposed to car park charges are many of their own councillors- that it is unlikely the leader John Clark and his cabinet would dare to risk putting a pay parking motion to a full council.

Both March and Wisbech town councils have voted to oppose pay parking – a petition is already under way to try and stop it from being introduced.

The paid parking debate hotted up in Wisbech after Horsefair Shopping Centre announced they are giving three hours free parking instead of two and will reduce all day parking to £2 instead of £3.50.

The move is part of a massive make-over for the car park, including new lighting, and has been welcomed amid discussions on whether Fenland will start charging people for all 20 car parks in the Fenland area.

Councillor Sam Hoy, who is urging Wisbech town councillors to vote against charging, said: “It’s an interesting move considering Fenland have said the Horsefair can charge people what they like - but they don’t want to.

“They understand the value of it. I welcome their decision.”

Cllr Steve Tierney said: “It’s very clever of them because if Fenland District Council wants to introduce paid parking it would put Horsefair into a position to be able to under-cut.

“I am always in favour of anything to reduce parking so this is a great move.

“Paid parking in all the car parks in Wisbech would signal a death knell to small businesses whose unique selling point is good service, interesting products and convenience.

“The fact people can pop to town easily means our town centre thrives - paid parking would take that away and drive people to the large out of town shopping areas.”

Cllr Virginia Bucknor welcomed the Horsefair decision saying: “Car parking is a real issue, it’s not just about shoppers, people on low wages coming in to work in town will be hit by paid parking, not everyone can rely on public transport, especially if you live in the outlying villages.

The Horsefair car park was sold by Fenland District Council in 1993 and at that time Cllr Bucknor called for a free five hour parking limit.

Her request was turned down in favour of a three hour limit. That was then switched to two hours - and in 2016 it will go back to three free hours.

Work to improve the car park began on Monday January 4 and is due for completion in early February.

During renovation works there will be no time restrictions or charges.

The car park will remain open, apart from Sunday January 31, when it will be closed to allow resurfacing works at the entrance and exit.

Work includes repainting lines, repainting the ground floor to create a brighter environment for shoppers and new lighting.

There will be 13 new parent and child parking bays on the ground floor.

Once reopened, customers will no longer need a ticket, as the system will be automated, and a new pricing scheme introduced.

After three hours, rates have been reduced from £1 to 50p and all day parking is £2 - £1.50 cheaper.

Shoppers wishing to stay longer than three hours can pay when they leave.

The car park is free on Sundays and every day after 6pm.

Horsefair centre manager Kevin Smith said the car park has about 8,000 cars a week.

“Parking won’t just be cheaper but it will also be easier. Plus it’s going to be a much brighter, smarter looking car park.”

Disabled blue badge holders will be under the same regulations as all other cars.

Many councillors believe car park charges should never have been included in the consultation documents on possible savings now being circulated.

Council leader John Clark has presented himself as ‘neutral’ over which services could or should be cut; however he insists the vulnerable in society must be protected.

Asked about young people forced to buy cheap cars to get into Fenland towns to work, and then face paying a possible parking charge, Cllr Clark felt “little old ladies” remained a priority.

“People who own cars are rich,” said Cllr Clark, drawing a comparison to the elderly with no transport and reliant on community buses provided by organisations such as FACT.

But Cllr Clark acknowledged the difficulties in persuading his colleagues to consider car park charges as a possibility – even though he predicted this could generate up to £1.26 million a year in extra revenue.

Fenland Council operates 20 car parks with 2,335 spaces and proposals being considered suggest offering free parking for the first 30 minutes and then either 25p or 50p an hour thereafter.

However, the council concedes the estimates are “historic” and would need to be updated “to reflect the current situation and charging model preferred”.

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