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Fierce debate sees controversial parking charges in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham go through

A fierce debate has seen proposals to scrap free parking in three different areas of Suffolk go through.

Members of Babergh’s cabinet discussed and approved scrapping three-hour free parking in Sudbury, Hadleigh, and Lavenham, this morning in a bid to offset part of the £6.7m budget gap predicted over the next three years.

Cllr John Ward, the council’s acting leader, said a failure to address parking charges in past years meant the council could no longer pick up the £427,000 bill.

Station Road Car Park, Kingfisher Leisure Centre. Picture: Babergh District Council
Station Road Car Park, Kingfisher Leisure Centre. Picture: Babergh District Council

He added: “We cannot continue to carry this cost if we want to continue to deliver essential and valuable services for our residents and communities.

“It’s no wonder we’re struggling and can’t afford to carry out the priorities in our plan for Babergh — we can no longer shy away from making difficult decisions.”

The changes approved were for the introduction of a £1 charge for one hour in short stay parking — capped at four hours — and two hours for a long stay, increasing by 50p increments each additional hour.

On top of this, councillors also approved a reduction in the cost of all-day parking in Sudbury and Hadleigh from £3 to £2.50 — this would include parking in Great Eastern Road (Roys) and Magdalen Road, which are proposed to change to long stay parking.

The changes, which are set to come into effect from October, will also see free parking continue on Sunday and Bank Holidays, and blue badge holders able to park for free for up to three hours as they currently are.

The acting leader’s worries were shared by the deputy leader, Cllr Deborah Saw, who said other services would be affected if these changes do not go through.

She added: “I’m not prepared to see leisure centres limit their hours or even close, I’m not in favour of cutting our funding to community groups, that give advice to people who are in debt, cold, have problems with their landlords.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this, but we are on the edge of an economic precipice at the moment.”

There were those in the cabinet, however, who shared the concerns of thousands of residents and several other councillors.

Cllr Jessie Carter, a cabinet member, said many residents on lower incomes, including herself, would have to reconsider going to Subury, Hadleigh, and Lavenham, for leisure.

She added “We haven’t looked at this in the depth that I believe it should’ve been looked into — I think we are rushing into this too much.

“It’s our job as elected officials to represent our communities, and I don’t believe that’s not what’s being done here today.”

Cllr Carter proposed to delay the decision until a later date but the motion, despite support from Cllr Daniel Potter, was defeated by the rest of the cabinet.

The changes, as proposed by the council, were passed with six votes for and two against.

Over the next three years, the council is expecting to make around £2.5 million in income which, once running costs are factored in, should lead to the budget being better off by nearly £1.9 million.

The council has also promised to review the changes every two years, as well as look into investing into other services such as public transport.

Cllr Ward also made sure to warn the changes to parking charges were only one of a set of tough decisions the council would have to make to address its financial shortfall.

Speaking after the meeting, although he didn’t reveal which decisions these could be, he said they would come to light over the next six months.

He added: “Clearly we’ve got to change things, we can no longer deliver services in the way we’ve been doing in the past.

“We’ve got to be far more imaginative in how we redefine what the council is, so there will be significant changes.”