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Fate of free parking scheme in Bury St Edmunds to be decided next month

Councillors have suggested saving a free parking scheme in Bury St Edmunds as its fate looks set to be decided next month.

The Our Bury St Edmunds 'free from three' parking scheme, which allows visitors to park for free from 3pm on Tuesdays, was earmarked for the axe under a raft of recommendations from West Suffolk Council's parking review group.

Among the proposals are hikes in parking charges across the town and other areas of West Suffolk to generate more than £300,000 as well as scrapping the £1 evening charge and extending the normal tariff to 8pm.

The fate of the 'free from 3pm' scheme looks set to be decided next month. Picture by Mark Westley
The fate of the 'free from 3pm' scheme looks set to be decided next month. Picture by Mark Westley

Removing the 'free from three' scheme would save £80,000.

Tonight (January 23) the council's overview and scrutiny committee referred all the Bury St Edmunds plans for cabinet to decide on February 11.

The committee recommended though to ditch the £1 overnight charge, keep free from 3pm and asked for an option of free parking from 8am to noon on a Wednesday to be looked at along with 'free from' options on market days in other towns.

Mark Cordell in The Cattle Market car park. Picture by Mark Westley
Mark Cordell in The Cattle Market car park. Picture by Mark Westley

It followed a call at the meeting from Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds, to defer all the recommendations as he argued more time was needed to consider them.

Pointing to lower footfall and shop closures, Mr Cordell said the issue of 'the high street in crisis has hit Bury'.

He said: "The current offer in Bury is considerably worse than it was in 2016 when the prices were last raised. Our businesses couldn't survive by charging more money for a worse offer and this is what we're asking people to do."

James Sheen, founder of We Love Bury St Edmunds, said he had been running a petition calling for two full free parking days including a market day.

Resident Rod Portwood, 71, of Bury said: "These proposals I believe would be civic suicide and can only end in tears if they're implemented."

In response to Mr Sheen, Cllr David Nettleton, chairman of the committee and the review group, suggested the possibility of free parking 8am to noon on Wednesdays.

Cllr Nettleton said Bury charges are lower than comparable towns and income from parking is used for the benefit of services in the town.

Cllr Paul Hopfensperger said the removal of free from 3pm 'seems to be in direct conflict with the council's economic development remit'.

He said: "People want to come to Bury to shop but they want cheaper not more expensive parking.

Cllr Patrick Hanlon, reading a statement from Cllr Diane Hind in her absence, said: "At a time when high streets generally are suffering from decline, everything that can be done to protect ours should. The key part is easy and cheap parking."

Other recommendations could have seen parking tariffs introduced in Brandon.

Mark Skinner, representing Brandon's traders, said: "If these parking charge proposals go through I can honestly tell you I think it's the final nail in Brandon's coffin."

He added that a petition against the charges had attracted more than 2,000 signatures from a town of 10,000 people.

Cllr Victor Lukaniuk, who represents Brandon Central, said: "We're a deprived town and these car parking charges will not lift us out of any deprivation. They will take money to other towns."

The committee recommended no charge with a review after 12 months.

George Street car park would have all day parking and Bury Road a maximum stay of three hours managed through machines issuing free tickets which people will display.

After the meeting, Mr Cordell said: "I'm pleased this very complex issue has been referred to the cabinet for them to consider all the implications within this report.

"I'm confident they will see the bigger picture in this regard.

"I think the importance when it comes to parking is looking at it from the customer perspective because without customers the town centre will die."

For the We Love Bury St Edmunds petition, click here.