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Babergh councillors clash over proposed new parking charges in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham after opposing petition draws thousands of signatures

The lead petitioner against proposed new parking charges in Babergh has branded the idea ‘an unjustified extra tax’ – but council leaders insist tough choices are needed to protect key services.

This week, Babergh District Council debated a petition calling on the authority to scrap controversial proposals for its car parks in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham, after it gathered thousands of signatures.

Consultation is ongoing on the possibility of cutting free parking and introducing a new tariff structure, as the council seeks to address a projected £6.7 million gap in its budget over the next four years.

Station Road car park Sudbury. Picture: Mark Westley
Station Road car park Sudbury. Picture: Mark Westley

The proposal has proved divisive across Babergh, with the opposing petition reaching 8,758 validated signatures – although its creator, Paul Clover, said another 2,000 people from outside the district had also signed it.

Mr Clover, a district councillor representing Lavenham, told the full council meeting on Tuesday night that he felt the proposal was undemocratic, as power ultimately rested with the cabinet on whether to implement it.

He also claimed that insufficient financial information had been given to properly scrutinise and help make an informed decision.

“Cabinet leaders have said charges will have no impact, and that decreasing traffic increases footfall and spend,” said Mr Clover. “There is no evidence to support these claims.

“There is no guarantee that the income raised will be wholly used to deliver car parking services. This is simply an unjustified extra tax on our residents and business owners.

“The basis for introducing car parking charges has not been properly established. It has been hastily presented and ultimately undemocratic.”

However, Babergh leader David Busby argued the petition was flawed, stating it had failed to present the consequences to other council-funded services, if the budget gap was left as it is.

He insisted that the success of the high street was not defined by free parking, but by what it offers, and he did not believe a “modest parking fee” would deter people from visiting Sudbury, Lavenham or Hadleigh.

“As for saying it’s not the right kind of tax, it’s actually the perfect kind of tax,” Mr Busby told Tuesday’s meeting.

“If people use it, they pay it. If they don’t use it, they don’t pay it. That’s exactly the way we should be taxing people – not just across the spectrum, which is what we do now.

“We have climate change problems, we have flooding, we have too much traffic, we have poor air quality, but you don’t seem to want to do anything about it.

“We can’t keep burying our head in the sand – we have to make changes.

“There is evidence that if you take traffic out of the town centre, more people will go in and spend longer there, because it’s more comfortable.”

Affected towns and parishes are being encouraged to share their views before the consultation period closes in early March.

At Tuesday’s Babergh full council meeting, Mr Busby also suggested that Sudbury Town Council could take control of its car parks instead, if it felt so strongly that free parking should remain.

He said: “What does Sudbury have that they think they can demand money from everybody else? It isn’t special that way.”

However, Sudbury councillor Tim Regester countered that the town council was not in any financial position to be able to take over the car parks, and added that the town’s low shop vacancy rate made it stand out across Suffolk.

He also told the meeting that, although free parking may make behavioural change towards cycling and walking more difficult, this change would not happen without linked footpaths and bicycle lanes in Babergh.

“I have to conclude that removing free parking would undoubtedly damage the Sudbury economy and, therefore, I cannot support it,” said Cllr Regester.

But, Babergh’s deputy leader Deborah Saw warned that, if they did not explore avenues for extra revenue, it could impact other services, such as funding for leisure centres, Citizens Advice and homelessness support.

She told councillors: “I feel we need to say, if we don’t do this, what’s the alternative? I would ask people to think very seriously about services we would have to cut.”