Petition against parking charge proposals for Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham moves beyond 10,000 signatures
More than 10,000 people have signed a petition against potential new parking charges in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham – a figure which its organiser says shows the strength of feeling over the issue.
The petition, which calls for Babergh District Council to scrap any plans to introduce new tariffs in the car parks it owns – was formally submitted this week, after amassing 10,500 signatures.
The council has begun consulting on parking fares, which it has defended as necessary to help address a budget gap of £1.8 million and ensure that other essential services it provides are protected.
At present, council-owned car parks provide three hours of free parking, but leaders say this cost the authority £425,000 to subsidise last year, and is set to increase further.
However, the proposal has come under fire from residents, businesses and local councils, due to concerns about the long-term impact it could have.
Opponents fear that slashing the free parking offer would take away the main selling point that helped Babergh’s towns and villages to compete with larger shopping areas in Suffolk and nearby Essex.
Paul Clover, a district councillor for Lavenham, who set up the petition, said he estimated that approximately 10 per cent of signatories actually lived outside the district, as they insisted on doing so to show their support.
He argued that Babergh leaders had failed to establish what the real costs are within the reported car parking subsidy figure.
“What the petition shows is just how far people are prepared to travel to enjoy the free parking and the independent small retailers these towns offer,” Mr Clover told the Free Press.
“Why risk the fragile economy of our town centres? Just look at the town centres where car park charges have helped to kill off the soul of the town. There are many local examples.
“At a time of economic crisis, it defies common sense commercial logic to impose charges that will drive down visitor numbers and trade and compromise business rate income.
“The district council may then be required to make additional investment to try to undo the damage. But, will the shoppers come back? It just does not make sense.”
Meanwhile, Long Melford Parish Council is due to hold an extraordinary meeting tomorrow morning to draft its formal response to the car parking tariffs consultation.
Last month, Babergh leader David Busby insisted that the consultation period would enable communities to put forward their ideas on how to proceed.
Explaining the reasoning for the proposals, 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.”
This was echoed by cabinet member for finance, John Ward, who stated: “The council cannot continue this subsidy if it wants to continue its car parking strategy and continue to deliver other essential services.
“Financially, we have no realistic option. This will, despite protestations to the contrary, benefit the towns in the long run, and it is fair.”