Waverley Borough Council is targeting short-term town centre parking to help finance car park improvements and offset a forecast overall budget shortfall of £1.15 million in the coming year.
It plans to increase first-hour charges to £1 at eight car parks – including High Street, Haslemere – and 80p at three others – including Chestnut Avenue.
At the same time it plans to revisit the business case for improvement of the Wey Hill car park – and the introduction of charging – to provide additional future income.
These plans are outlined in the council’s budget proposals report, published on the WBC website. The budget proposals are to be discussed by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 19 January – ahead of submission for approval by the Executive on 7 February and the full council on 21 February.
In a message to chambers of commerce and town/parish councils, councillors Andrew Bolton and James Edwards – respectively portfolio holders for economic development and environmental services – say the aim is “to rationalise and simplify the charges at the 11 car parks to achieve greater consistency, while ensuring there is funding available to deliver a four-fold increase in car park improvements during 2017/2018.”
The council plans to spend £430,000 on improvements identified for year two of its 10-year car park maintenance and improvement programme. It is spending a further £80,000 to upgrade parking payment machines and pave the way for introduction of more flexible payment options, including contactless card payments.
Haslemere Chamber President David Goddin says the proposed increased parking fees will be an unwelcome dampener on town centre business confidence.
He says: “Retailers in particular have been through a tough year which has seen the closure of several shops. Contributing factors have included high business rates, part-closures of the High Street car park for improvements and added pressure on all car parks and kerbside parking during the recent redevelopment of the station car park.
“I expect our members and other Haslemere retailers will be angered by the new parking charge proposals, fearing they will have a negative effect on footfall and sales.
“I appreciate the council is in a difficult position, trying to deliver world class services to match public expectations – but with government financial backing dwindling to nothing.”
He says the council needs to learn from business that increasing prices is not a good solution to cash shortfalls. Similarly, raising short-term car park charges is not a good way to attract people to the town.
“The Chamber has long held the view that the council should be doing more to boost business – not raising barriers to trade by excessive taxing of shoppers and other visitors who come by car. Attracting more shoppers to the town means more profitable businesses and fewer vacant shops, which in turn underpins business rates.
“Short-term parkers are typically people who ‘pop into town’ for a quick errand. They are the people we should beencouraging to use our central car parks, because they spend money in the local shops.
“The council could do a lot for its reputation by introducing a 30-minute tariff for the benefit of these people – and the local economy.
“The time has come for the council to look more creatively at its methods for financing service provision and stop treating motorists as cash cows.”
He says news that the council is planning to look again at Wey Hill car park is no surprise – but its development ideas are unlikely to gain much public support.
“Last time the council wanted to tarmac the whole site, demarcate bays and introduce charging, this Chamber voiced its preference for the alternative suggestion of a community focused development with integral parking. I see no reason for changing that view.”