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Sunday, October 24, 2021

‘One size fits all’ parking plan won’t work: councillor

Plans for a consultation on the introduction of car parking charges in Sandbach and Holmes Chapel have been scrapped, after a proposed “one-size-fits all approach” was criticised.

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”.

But it was argued that plans did not take into account the nature of each town, with some pointing out that by making residents pay in Sandbach and Holmes Chapel, where parking is currently free, it could cause problems with on-street parking in residential areas.

At a meeting of the borough council’s Highways and Transport Committee on Tuesday the consultation was voted down.

Coun Les Gilbert, who represents Dane Valley, spoke about the effect charging would have in Holmes Chapel.

He said: “The principle of equality and equity is appealing, but for me, the one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work because it doesn’t take into account local service centres.

“Let me use Holmes Chapel as an example. It has a shopping precinct with free parking for shoppers in the short term. Cheshire East has 47 unregulated spaces, which are split between two small car parks.

“If we introduce charges on them, it follows that those spaces will only be used for short term parking when there are no other spaces available. It would encourage residents to park on streets.

“The report offers some mitigation measures, but I believe this approach would alienate our residents.”

Coun Mike Benson, who represents Sandbach Town Ward, doubted the consultation method.

“How would we distribute this consultation? Not everyone uses the internet. Will the information be given to libraries? Will there be meetings in parish halls? I think not. It should be a meaningful consultation,” he argued.

Coun Laura Crane, who represents Sandbach Ettiley Heath and Wheelock Ward, was among those to vote in favour of the proposals.

She said: “We’re in a horrible situation as a council, especially the highways service. We know that in 12 months’ times things will be worse.

“What we’re doing by subsidising some car parks is potentially unfair. As a Sandbach resident, do I want to pay for parking? No, is the honest answer. But we need to get some information and come back to this committee before we make final decisions, so I fully support these proposals.”

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.” Couns Browne and Crane were among five committee members who voted in favour of the consultation, while Couns Gilbert and Benson were two of the eight who voted against it.

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.”

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