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Controversial cuts to free parking in Sudbury and Hadleigh approved despite local opposition

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Divisive plans to slash free parking across Babergh district have been unanimously approved, but councillors have compromised on the extent of cuts and when they will be implemented.

Babergh District Council’s cabinet gave the green light to changes at its meeting on Thursday morning, in which it agreed to reduce free parking at most car parks from three hours down to one hour, which will not come into effect until October 1, 2021 at the earliest.

It had originally proposed just 30 minutes free with a start date of July, but agreed to the revised proposals put forward by the council’s scrutiny committee last month.

Voxpop in Sudbury on car park charges.... (44277640)
Voxpop in Sudbury on car park charges.... (44277640)

The changes have sparked concerns from town councils in Hadleigh and Sudbury, some local ward councillors and petitions totalling more than 2,000 signatures.

Chief among those concerns were the timing of it when businesses had already been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact it could have on their recovery, as well as the amount of engagement and consultation that had happened on the proposals.

But the cabinet said that the current subsiding of free car parking left it with an annual deficit of £185,000 that meant maintenance couldn’t take place, and needed to become self-financing.

Conservative cabinet member for the environment at Babergh’s rainbow coalition, Elisabeth Malvisi, said: “I was asked to extend the free period to one hour, which I have done. I was further asked to push the implementation date to not before October 2021, and again I have done this.”

“People do not drive to a town simply to park for free, the drive to a town that offers them what they are looking for,” she said, and added: “We are not elected to run scared of controversial issues, we are elected to do our very best for the entire district.”

The changes do not apply to on-street parking, as they are run by the county council, while residents’ parking permits were agreed on a 24/7 basis for Mill Lane car park in Sudbury.

The council said that the income would be used to help fund maintenance and improvements to those car parks, as well as on measures to promote sustainable transport such as cycling.

However, the revised plans have still generated opposition.

Hadleigh North councillor Sian Dawson said the decision should have been deferred until after a comprehensive parking strategy, planned to begin later this year and anticipated to take between 18 months and two years, had been completed.

Great Cornard councillor Peter Beer said it was “a death blow dealt to our towns, Sudbury and Hadleigh” and accused the administration of “not listening” to those who had raised concerns.

Hadleigh South councillor Kathryn Grandon wrote to the cabinet this week calling for a full consultation.

“Walk down the high street and see how many premises are closed, and remember even the ones that are open are suffering from a lack of trade,” she said. “£1 may not be much to us but it is two pints of milk and a loaf to some.”

The council said it would continue to monitor the Covid situation and only introduce the new tariffs once it was clear economic recovery had begun, with council leader John Ward stressing that there will be “other work to make sure we have the maximum support possible to businesses”.