Planned new parking charges for Sudbury and Hadleigh labelled 'Babergh town and health tax' by new county councillor
Plans to introduce controversial new parking charges in two market towns next year have been labelled as a “Babergh town and health tax” by a new county councillor, who urged against their implementation.
Six car parks in Sudbury and five in Hadleigh, which are currently free to use for the first three hours, will adopt new tariffs from January, Babergh District Council confirmed earlier this month.
The revised fee structure, which will see the free parking period slashed to one hour, was pushed back to next year after feedback from the public and both town councils.
But the proposed changes have faced opposition, over fears that they will deter shoppers, at a time when the towns are bouncing back from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Philip Faircloth-Mutton, Suffolk county councillor for Sudbury East and Waldingfield, said he had contacted the district council to request the new charges not be brought in while the local economy is still recovering, after hearing constituents’ concerns.
“Supply side economic theory has always shown, as a local economy recovers, the tax base will inevitably recover via increased demand from consumers and business activity,” he told Suffolk News.
“The proposed new parking charges, or what is essentially Babergh’s town and health tax, falling solely on Sudbury and Hadleigh, is, therefore, both unhelpful and unwelcome.”
A district council spokeswoman said evidence suggests that the local economic recovery is progressing well, but the new implementation date will allow more time to “work with the high street to find the best solution for everyone”.
The new parking tariffs – approved by Babergh’s cabinet in February – were devised after the authority deemed the current arrangements were outdated and did not make the best use of space, citing an independent study.
Costs of subsidising free parking across the district during the 2020/21 financial year was also projected to be around £185,000.
However, Cllr Faircloth-Mutton said he had reached out to the council to urge it to consider alternative financing solutions.
He told Suffolk News his personal preference was for the reduction in free parking not to take effect at all, arguing the proposed charges would “throw up new barriers” between residents, businesses and suppliers.
“Our wonderful businesses and independent retailers are some of the most loyal purchasers of local produce and services, reducing food miles and our carbon footprint,” he said. “Now is time to back retailers and suppliers, not stifle them.
“Currently, my rural residents can enjoy their sports classes and work out at the Kingfisher Leisure Centre for three hours without parking charges, which helps to promote healthy living and fosters cohesion.
“Babergh’s new measures would not just be a tax on commerce, but a tax on health.
“A number of my residents in Sudbury also expressed concern that a decline in the competitiveness of our town centre as a place to do business, and thus increasing shop closures, may also result in an increase in crime.
“To recover as a community from the pandemic, focus should be on strengthening the relationship between local residents and local enterprise and leisure facilities, not throwing up new barriers between them,” he added.
If the changes do go ahead as planned, Cllr Faircloth-Mutton said a compromise should be reached by introducing a loyalty card scheme that would benefit customers and participating businesses.
A spokeswoman for Babergh District Council confirmed a loyalty scheme is being considered as part of its engagement exercise with local businesses.
“The recently-announced implementation date of January allows the council as much time as possible to work with the high street to find the best solution for everyone,” she said.
“Changes will require a new traffic regulation order (TRO) to be in place before they come into effect.
“As such, the TRO process includes a statutory 21-day consultation, providing opportunity for further comment for those who wish to.
“Any future tariff changes would need to be agreed by cabinet, with no meetings currently planned to consider new proposals.”
It comes after the district council confirmed a new consultation on the future of parking in Babergh had been temporarily withdrawn as a result of “technical issues”.
At a meeting of Sudbury Town Council on Tuesday evening, Sudbury councillor and Babergh cabinet member Jan Osborne told members that some flaws had been identified with the current questionnaire.
She added that it would be replaced with “a much more fit-for-purpose survey” in the near future.