Forest of Dean anger at parking charges

August 28, 2012 3:22 PM

There is anger in the Forest of Dean as local residents complain about the imposition of parking charges in their town centres. ‘We need to encourage people here,’ argues a Coleford town councillor, ‘we don't have any large tourist attractions. So we rely on people popping in, for maybe an hour or two hours, and if they see that there's parking charges they'll just move on elsewhere.’ He criticises the District Council for ignoring the concerns of local residents.

It comes on top of the loss of other local services and traders fear they will be ‘decimated’. ‘As it stands we’re about to lose our police station and local college,’ says one. ‘What more are they planning to do to take the heart and soul out of a town and make it impossible for anybody to live or trade here?’

The Forest of Dean District Council clearly sees the parking charges as a supplementary tax on local motorists. ‘It is a very important step towards making the finances of this council work which is important for keeping council tax down,’ says their spokesman. ‘And we will look to invest any surplus income on schemes that will benefit the town centres.’ Well I know what scheme would be at the top of most local traders’ lists—a cut in parking charges!

Indeed, the government’s own report into saving town centres—masterminded by shopping guru Mary Portas—recommended just that point. ‘Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table,’ says point 9 of her 28-Point Plan to save the High Street.

But, again and again, councils would rather raise parking charges and then spend the money themselves on their own cock-eyed schemes to revive town centres. It is a costly shuffling of taxpayers’ money that is neither effective nor financially efficient.

Over the past three years, other councils in Gloucestershire have raised nearly £30m in parking charges, but how much of this has gone to helping hard-pressed local traders and business owners? ‘There is an understanding among traders the council needs to raise revenue,’ says a Cheltenham businessman, ‘but the town must remain competitive and there is no point milking the cash cow.’

Sadly, the naked aim of council-imposed parking charge is being openly acknowledged as a supplement to council tax income. ‘[Parking charges are] a really important contribution to the council's finances,’ says Cheltenham Borough Council’s Chief Executive, ‘and helps pay for things like street cleaning, town centre improvements and maintenance of parks and gardens.’

But this was never the original aim of council parking charges and many councils originally argued that any surplus income would be ring-fenced for improvements to local transport infrastructure. Now any pretence of that has gone right out of the window and it is continuing to hurt small traders and businesses, and is slowly killing our town centres...There is anger in the Forest of Dean as local residents complain about the imposition of parking charges in their town centres. ‘We need to encourage people here,’ argues a Coleford town councillor, ‘we don't have any large tourist attractions. So we rely on people popping in, for maybe an hour or two hours, and if they see that there's parking charges they'll just move on elsewhere.’ He criticises the District Council for ignoring the concerns of local residents.

It comes on top of the loss of other local services and traders fear they will be ‘decimated’. ‘As it stands we’re about to lose our police station and local college,’ says one. ‘What more are they planning to do to take the heart and soul out of a town and make it impossible for anybody to live or trade here?’

The Forest of Dean District Council clearly sees the parking charges as a supplementary tax on local motorists. ‘It is a very important step towards making the finances of this council work which is important for keeping council tax down,’ says their spokesman. ‘And we will look to invest any surplus income on schemes that will benefit the town centres.’ Well I know what scheme would be at the top of most local traders’ lists—a cut in parking charges!

Indeed, the government’s own report into saving town centres—masterminded by shopping guru Mary Portas—recommended just that point. ‘Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table,’ says point 9 of her 28-Point Plan to save the High Street.

But, again and again, councils would rather raise parking charges and then spend the money themselves on their own cock-eyed schemes to revive town centres. It is a costly shuffling of taxpayers’ money that is neither effective nor financially efficient.

Over the past three years, other councils in Gloucestershire have raised nearly £30m in parking charges, but how much of this has gone to helping hard-pressed local traders and business owners? ‘There is an understanding among traders the council needs to raise revenue,’ says a Cheltenham businessman, ‘but the town must remain competitive and there is no point milking the cash cow.’

Sadly, the naked aim of council-imposed parking charge is being openly acknowledged as a supplement to council tax income. ‘[Parking charges are] a really important contribution to the council's finances,’ says Cheltenham Borough Council’s Chief Executive, ‘and helps pay for things like street cleaning, town centre improvements and maintenance of parks and gardens.’

But this was never the original aim of council parking charges and many councils originally argued that any surplus income would be ring-fenced for improvements to local transport infrastructure. Now any pretence of that has gone right out of the window and it is continuing to hurt small traders and businesses, and is slowly killing our town centres...

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