The Council backtracks on the abolition of free parking
Council’s ‘Borough Partnership’ has reversed a decision to scrap free parking in two towns in Tunbridge Wells after 80% of residents opposed the plans.
The Lib Dem-led coalition cabinet, which also includes Labor and Alliance advisers, had planned to scrap the first hour of free parking in the Council-owned car park in Paddock Wood and the first two hours of free parking on the Yew Tree parking lot. at Southborough in favor of a charge of 50 pence per hour.
But the move has sparked protests and petitions and even led Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark to call the plans “damaging” to local businesses in the towns.
The backlash over the proposals saw Lib Dem finance chief Cllr Andrew Hickey resign and leave the party to become an independent adviser earlier this year.
He has since been replaced by Broadwater Lib Dem councilor Christopher Hall.
Council launched a consultation on its proposal to scrap free parking last month, which aimed to address a growing shortfall in council finances which is expected to reach £3.4million a year by 2026.
As announced last week Time80% of residents who took part in the consultation said they were opposed to the plan to abolish free parking.
At a Cabinet meeting last Thursday (September 22), the Cabinet decided to scrap the plans.
While he has introduced a fee increase at other council-run car parks – which will see the first hour drop from around £1.50 an hour to £2 an hour and annual subscriptions increase from £50-80 a year – Cabinet voted against its own policy to abolish free parking in Paddock Wood and Southborough.
Instead, the Cabinet said it would seek ‘other funding options’ which council would ‘engage with Southborough Council and/or Paddock Wood Council to discuss’.
Defending the U-turn, new Chief Cabinet Officer Finance Adviser Chris Hall said: ‘Since my appointment as Cabinet Member for Finance in August, I have reviewed our budget plans during the year as well as our parking strategy.
“I would like to thank everyone who took part in the consultation on parking fees and who spoke on behalf of citizens at various public meetings. The consultation is an opportunity to hear the views of the public we serve and to take stock of the Board’s decisions.
‘As a new member of Cabinet I was able to review this and was delighted that we were able to reach agreement to change our original proposal, listening to businesses and residents about the impact on their areas’ , said Mr. Hall. added.
“While the main charges will need to be applied in full, to ensure that we deal with a very large budget deficit in the years to come, we will also be engaging with our colleagues in Paddock Wood and Southborough on how best to maintain the free parking their residents so clearly value.
“The Borough Partnership is committed to getting it right, and sometimes that means being prepared to change your mind.”
The decision was welcomed by activists and councilors in both cities.
Paddock Wood West independent adviser Matt Bailey told the Time“The residents and businesses of Paddock Wood were 100% against the new parking charges, including the end of the free parking period.
“So they’ll be relieved that this far-fetched idea has been dropped.”
The news comes after an earlier decision to start charging for parking at Dunorlan Park was also scrapped by the Borough Partnership, but the idea could resurface next year.
Council has asked its officers to conduct an “informal public consultation” to understand residents’ views on the “amenity value” of the park, including the introduction of parking fees, which could be implemented over the course of of the 2023/24 financial year.