Car parking charges in West Suffolk set to rise after coronavirus delay to price rises in Newmarket, Haverhill and Bury St Edmunds
Business leaders have blasted a district council's decision to hike the costs of parking in West Suffolk, with one describing it as a 'real kick in the teeth' for retailers.
Drivers in West Suffolk, who because of the coronavirus pandemic have so far been spared the rises which have been in the pipeline since the beginning of last year, will from next month have to stump up higher ticket prices in Newmarket, Haverhilland Bury St Edmunds.
But the move has come under fire from business leaders across West Suffolk.
Paul Brown, Love Newmarket Business Improvement District manager, blasted the price hike and said he was 'surprised and disappointed' at the announcement.
"As of today we don't even know if the government will end the final stage of lockdown later this month," he said.
"It is still a very difficult trading environment for many of our businesses who have clung on over the 18 months. To find this out now is a real kick in the teeth."
And Wil Bryant, chairman of Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District, said the organisation would have rather seen them cut prices.
"We at the BID recognise that delaying these increases, to support businesses, have impacted on council revenue, and while we would clearly prefer for the prices to be going in the opposite direction, we do appreciate the council's position," he said.
Cllr Susan Glossop, West Suffolk's cabinet member for growth, said the council was working with organisations to ensure the recovery of town centres in the district.
"While we anticipate that some of the challenges that retail faced before the pandemic around changing shopping habits will continue, we have confidence in the future of our town centres as places of economic, social, leisure and cultural activity and we have invested in them and that future," she said.
"We will continue to play an active role in supporting our town centres through our everyday work, not just through the recovery phase, but beyond."
The price rises will be introduced from July 5 in West Suffolk Council run car parks across the district - a move the authority said would help pay for important town centre services and help regulate the use of car parks.
The council said the use of Newmarket's town centre car parks had already returned to levels close to what they were in 2019, with Haverhill not far behind.
And in Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk Council have reported, footfall is nearly up to pre-pandemic levels as shoppers make up for lost time.
The council delayed implementing the long planned price hike - the first for five years for most and for some in Newmarket the first for nine - as the coronavirus and subsequent government shutdown of the economy tore through the High Street.
Cllr Peter Stevens, cabinet member for operations at West Suffolk Council, said the authority had plans to invest further in the car parks including more electric car charging points and better signage.
The price rises have been in the pipeline for well over a year after, in February 2020, West Suffolk Council approved plans to increase parking charges across the district in April of that year.
Cllr Sarah Broughton, Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance said: “The Council doesn’t make profit – it funds services. Despite financial support from Government there has been a £1.36m impact on West Suffolk Council’s finances as a result of the pandemic which puts very real pressure and challenges on the continued delivery of services to our communities, including our town centres.
“West Suffolk Council receives around 10 per cent of the council tax bill and council tax only represents a fifth of the income the Council requires to deliver its services.
Much of the rest comes through investments, fees and charges such as car parking, so this will help us to maintain our services which will play a big part in the continuing town centre recovery.”