Critics fear proposals to introduce parking charges in Sudbury and Hadleigh would be 'final nail in coffin' for businesses
Proposals to introduce parking charges in two south Suffolk towns have come under heavy fire from local councils and businesses, who fear it would be the final nail in the coffin.
On Thursday, Babergh District Council’s cabinet will discuss proposed changes to parking provisions in Sudbury and Hadleigh, which would see a new tariff structure introduced in both towns at several car parks currently free for short-term stays.
Under the proposed rates, which would take effect on July 1 if approved, the free parking period would be reduced to 30 minutes, with rising fees for each hour a vehicle is parked beyond this time, up to four hours.
In Sudbury, the changes would affect car parks in North Street, Girling Street, Great Eastern Road, Station Road, Stour Street and the railway station.
Hadleigh car parks impacted would be in Magdalen Road, Stonehouse Road, High Street, Toppesfield Hall and Railway Walk.
The Sudbury Chamber of Commerce branded the proposals “a disgrace”, stating businesses are furious at what they believe to be an “underhand attempt by the district council to sneak through the changes without any opportunity for public debate”.
“This could well be the final nail in the coffin for the town centres,” said chamber chairman Robin Bailey. “Our councils seem to be determined to turn Sudbury and Hadleigh into empty commuter towns.”
Babergh District Council stated the proposals aim to find a better balance between traffic management, the economy, environmental goals and use of space.
The proposed introduction of parking fees in Sudbury and Hadleigh follows an independent parking study in both towns, which the district council says has found current arrangements are not making best use of available space.
The authority also argued that what is commonly known as free parking is actually subsidised, projecting the total of cost of this across the district to be £185,000 for the 2020/21 financial year.
Elisabeth Malvisi, Babergh’s cabinet member for environment, said: “Ensuring we have localised and future-proof parking plans in place in our towns is vital for our short and long-term Covid-19 recovery.
“But it is also vital in encouraging a shift change towards more sustainable travel and meeting our climate change ambitions.
“By managing our parking stock better, we can make sure people can find the right space, in the right place, leading to positive first and last impressions of our towns.
“We can act on our climate change ambitions and support residents’ wellbeing, and we can make parking fairer, so non-motorists aren’t paying for services they don’t use.”
But the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce suggested the district council knew the “extent of public hostility” to the idea of parking tariffs, with community campaigns lodged against previous attempts to introduce charges.
John McMillan, chamber president, said: “I can sympathise with the budget pressures Babergh is going through, but this is not the time to rush through such an important matter as this.
“Denying the public any say in this very important matter is a disgrace. What the devil has happened to democracy?”
Sudbury Town Council also registered its strong objection to the introduction of parking charges in the town, and requested no decision should be made before the end of February 2021 so that there is time for proper consultation.
During an extraordinary meeting held last week, members expressed their shock that such a proposal was being considered, at a time when businesses are still struggling with the effects of the coronavirus crisis.
“This would absolutely wreck the town centre,” town councillor Jenny Antill told the meeting.
“Especially with the torrid time retailers are having at a moment, not only because of Covid but because of the cyclical nature of things related to the internet and online shopping.”
Sudbury mayor Jack Owen added: “I think it’s a disgraceful act. The timing of it is despicable.
“I’m worried about Babergh at the moment and whether it’s representing the interests of the people it’s supposed to be representing.
“If they introduce parking fees, it gives them the licence to raise it whenever they need revenue.
“You would have to drag me through the burning fires of hell before I vote for parking charges in Sudbury.”