Catons Lane temporary car park proposal off the table

Saffron Walden Town Hall

Saffron Walden Town Hall - Credit: Archant

A CONTROVERSIAL proposal to create a temporary car park in Catons Lane – which included the possible loss of a basketball court and play area – has been unanimously thrown out by town councillors.

Saffron Walden Town Council debated the issue tonight (Thursday) and agreed to follow town clerk Simon Lloyd’s recommendation that the idea be scrapped.

It was ruled too costly to implement, in the region of £280,000.

Even with income from the car park during the six months Waitrose’s Hill Street facility is being refurbished, there would still be a net loss of £219,000, Mr Lloyd told members, unless it was made a permanent site.

Councillors also heard from Saffron Walden County High School student Finn Potter, 14. He and a group of four friends have launched a petition attracting some 200 signatures and created a Facebook group in opposition to the plans.

“There is only one free basketball court in the town and it is used very regularly by us and others,” the teenager said. “Both this and the play area are irreplaceable...I implore you to reject the proposal.”

Last week it was agreed at an extraordinary council meeting that Mr Lloyd be tasked with completing a feasibility study looking at the viability and logistics of tarmacing a temporary car park area catering for 100 spaces.

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He told members traffic flow in Catons Lane would be “exasperated” by the move and that lighting was required, at an estimated cost of £21,000, to make people feel safe using the temporary car park at night in the winter months.

Mr Lloyd also said the idea would see two amenities “sacrificed”, the play area and basketball court, and that because the former was created with the help of a £60,000 grant it may impact on the town council’s ability to secure funding for civic amenities in the future.

“It is my firm view that we should not pursue this option any further because it is too expensive and extremely precarious as an idea,” Mr Lloyd said.

“I do not deny there is a need for another car park [while the Fairycroft car park at Waitrose undergoes its refurbishment between January and June 2014] but Catons Lane is not the solution.”

Cllr Richard Harrington waded into the debate first. He called it “ridiculous” that Waitrose had not acted sooner to get something in place as an alternative car park, having been granted permission for the expansion of its Hill Street store in April 2011.

“Leaving it to such a late date is stupid,” Cllr Harrington told members, before it was pointed out by Cllr Nick Osborne that the running of Fairycroft car park was Uttlesford District Council’s responsibility.

“It is nothing to do with Waitrose,” he said. “Waitrose is only associated with it because of its close proximity.”

Cllr Osborne called for more input from the district council, suggesting chief executive John Mitchell be written to about the matter.

It was a sentiment shared by Cllr Mike Hibbs.

He said: “Any solution has to involve the district council and I am quite shocked there hasn’t been more involvement from them in this debate.”

Cllr David Sadler called the Catons Lane proposal “unacceptable and unnecessary”. “We cannot destroy this facility for young people in the town,” he said.

The mood of the council was summed up by Cllr Osborne, who added: “Catons Lane is too far from town for short term parking. I didn’t think it was ever going to be the solution to Waitrose anyway.

“The road down to Catons Lane is bad enough with the traffic. It was a non-starter and I propose we reject the idea.”

Councillors will now look at other temporary car park options to fill the void while the Waitrose facility is out of use.

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