Plans for a consultation on a parking fee rise in Congleton have been scrapped, after campaigners drew attention to the impact it could have on the high street – even though councillors were warned it would leave a £1m hole in the council budget.
Cheshire East Council was expected to launch a consultation on charging for spaces across the borough at the end of this month, in an attempt to “standardise” the approach to charges and “deliver fairness”.
In Congleton, it currently costs 40p to park in council-owned car parks for an hour, but under the proposals in the consultation, the charge would be doubled. The plans were met with criticism by some, including town councillors, who have been calling for two hours of free parking.
The consultation was thrown out at a meeting of Cheshire East’s Highways and Transport Committee on Tuesday.
Lib Dem Town Coun Robert Douglas was among those to voice his concerns in the public speaking segment of the meeting.
He said: “Our high street businesses and traders consider car park charges as one of the most significant factors that adversely affects their businesses, so we are dismayed that these proposals recommend the doubling of Congleton’s short stay car park charges.
“The consultation reveals that only 54% of respondents are prepared to pay for parking.
Furthermore, it reveals that the negative impact will outweigh the positive if a charge of more than 50p is applied for one hour’s parking.
“To propose a charge of 80p for the first hour for zone one car parks makes no sense whatsoever. This could be the final straw for some businesses and their closure would reduce the business rates that would be earned by Cheshire East.”
He added: “It is a myth to think that significantly increasing car park charges will significantly increase the use of other means of transport – it won’t.
“In many of our towns, public transport is inadequate. This consultation admits 73% of respondents will not be encouraged to use other forms of transport. It will just encourage high street customers to drive further afield to business parks with free parking, including those outside Cheshire East.”
He said: “These proposals could well result in increased CO2 emissions contrary to our green agenda.
“Last week, retail data showed that spending in the high street is declining, with increasing numbers of empty shops. Cheshire East should be helping our business to thrive instead of hindering them.
“I urge you to reject these unimaginative proposals that would adversely impact our local economy and could be damaging to our environment.”
Independent Coun Suzie Akers Smith, who represents Congleton West, was among those on the committee to vote in favour of the proposals.
In her role as the borough’s cycling and walking champion, she spoke about the benefits she expected the proposals would have for active travel.
She said: “The consultation would give all residents the opportunity to have a say. Under the previous cabinet system, all decisions would have been pushed through by the portfolio holder without the input of residents.
“I would also like to add, although parking is a contentious issue, the residents of Crewe and Macclesfield are subsidising those who pay less or nothing at all. Standardisation would make parking fairer.”
Independent Coun Craig Browne, the council’s deputy leader who chaired the meeting, defended the consultation plans.
He said: “Not to consult would be an attempt to pre-judge what we think residents will tell us. In order to find out what residents want, we do have to ask the question and give residents the opportunity to respond. For me, these proposals are about fairness.
“As a council, we want to minimise council tax increases, but we also want to provide services. Those who use the service, should be the ones that pay for it.
“We want to invest in our public transport network, we want to invest in active travel, we want to invest in the regeneration of our towns, but all of this costs money.
“There will be cases where extra measures are needed to mitigate the impact of charging and we can and will listen to that, but in order to listen, we must first ask residents the questions.”
Coun Browne and Coun Akers Smith were among the five who voted in favour of the consultation, while eight councillors voted it down.
Andrew Ross, the council’s director of highways, inferred that the failure to adopt the charges may have an impact on spending elsewhere.
He said: “Our medium-term financial strategy was approved in February, based on some assumptions to give the council a balanced budget.
“The decisions made here will affect that. You can see the numbers we are talking about – over one million pounds – so we would have to address that within the next budget assessment.”