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Babergh District Council leaders defend car parking changes in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham

A proposal to increase car parking fees in a Suffolk district has been defended by council leaders.

Two weeks ago, members of Babergh District Council’s cabinet unanimously approved a consultation to look at changes to council car parking fares in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham’s town centres.

This is due to the council no longer being able to pick up the £452,000 bill associated with car parking for up to three hours. During the cabinet meeting, it was suggested a small parking fare would help the council in filling the £1.8 million gap and balance the books for coming years.

Cllr David Busby and Cllr John Ward.
Cllr David Busby and Cllr John Ward.

The move has received an extensive backlash from councillors and residents, with a petition asking for the charges to remain as they are reaching more than 3,300 signatures.

Defending the proposal during yesterday’s overview and scrutiny committee meeting, Babergh’s leader Cllr David Busby said the council was still open to ideas from town councils and suggested they could pick up the bill instead, allowing the district council to invest in other services.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “We can’t afford to keep paying this subsidy without doing something else — we’re going to struggle to make the deficit as it is. It’ll be better to have the charges because it will enable us to do other things that are more positive.

“The economic viability of the high streets is as important to us as anybody.”

Cllr Busby also added the consultation would give residents the chance to refuse car parking charges. This is despite the original cabinet report stating the option to keep charges as they were had already been considered and rejected.

Speaking at the meeting Cllr John Ward, cabinet member for finance, assets and investments, added: “Ultimately, we have to do this, it’s not a question of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it’s a question of how we do it.

“They (residents) will answer a survey in a certain way but, in practice, they will behave fundamentally different when push comes to shove.”

Concerns were raised by Cllr Laura Smith, representing Sudbury south west, that an increase in parking fees could stop residents from going into town centres.

She said: “It’s not the people from far away who will be put off by parking charges, it’s the people who live in the local area.”

Addressing these worries, Cllr Leigh Jamieson said: “I don’t think you go somewhere just because the parking is free, you go because the place is attractive.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Smith added: “I understand the council finds itself in a dire financial state, but I’m pretty sure if parking charges are put in place it will have an effect on footfall — I think they should be honest about that.”

Cllr Smith also suggested funding should be earmarked for better transport and accessibility into the town centre, including bus services and cycle lanes.

Despite being open to suggestions, Cllr Ward said earmarking funds was not possible given the council’s current financial gap.

Should the proposals be approved, the change would only be introduced into the budget in the next financial year.

Before this, however, the proposals would once again go to members of the overview and scrutiny committee, with a final decision by the cabinet expected in March.