Further engagement over parking charges in bid to balance finances

Council facing budget gap of £1.8million considers next steps

‘The most divisive subject we’ve ever had’ – councillors agree on further engagement over parking charges in market towns, as Babergh District Council seeks to balance its books.

At a meeting of Babergh District Council’s cabinet today, acting leader Cllr John Ward spelled out how a budget gap of at least £1.8m meant the council could no longer afford to meet the cost of three-hour free parking in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham, without jeopardising other services.

Cllr Ward, said:

“I want to acknowledge that parking is an emotive and divisive issue, in fact probably the most divisive subject we’ve ever had, but given a budget gap of at least £1.8m in the current year, the council cannot continue this level of subsidy if it wants to deliver its approved car parking strategy, and indeed to continue delivering other essential services for our residents and communities.”

While a number of cabinet members and councillors attending the meeting expressed disappointment and concern over proposals to increase parking tariffs, the proposal to carry out further engagement and consultation ahead of taking a detailed tariff proposal back to cabinet were approved unanimously. 

Further conversations will now take place with the affected town and parish councils, with officers keen to hear suggestions of how to best resolve local issues.

The new tariffs will also be reviewed by the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee before coming back to Babergh cabinet in April.

Petitions by campaigners protesting against the introduction of parking charges will also be heard at February’s Full Council meeting – but with the cost of subsiding free parking expected to be more than £400K next year, councillors warn that avoiding a modest parking tariff would mean cuts elsewhere that would affect all our residents, whether they use the car parks or not.

Cllr Deborah Saw, cabinet member for People and Place, said:

“I am not particularly enamoured of the idea of charging for parking, but neither am I in favour of cutting services that people desperately need.  Funding our communities will be at risk. Funding our leisure services will be at risk.  The work that we do for elderly people tackling rural isolation and dementia are at risk.

“We were elected to make hard decisions and currently the budget that confronts us for the next three years will only get worse.  We are looking at very reasonable tariffs and we need to be responsible about this and think about the total service we give to residents.”

Proposed changes to tariffs will be shared ahead of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting later this month, with all income generated by the charges ringfenced for reinvestment into parking and sustainable travel options for the district.

The charges will also only apply to council-run car parks, with existing on-street parking remaining unchanged and blue badge holders still able to park in the council’s car parks for free. Babergh District Council will also continue to work with Suffolk County Council, as the highways authority, to prioritise blue badge parking for anyone who is mobility impaired next to main amenities within its town and village centres.

car parking in Babergh