Saffron Walden businesses oppose plans to increase car parking charges

BUSINESSES in Saffron Walden have slammed proposals to increase car parking charges, saying it would lead to shoppers ”shunning the town”.

The Saffron Walden Business Forum (SWBF), made up of firms from the town, has sent a strongly-worded response to Uttlesford District Council (UDC) in opposition to the plans. The forum says it goes against advice in a report by retail guru Mary Portas, commissioned by David Cameron in May, and could lead to shoppers going elsewhere.

In the review, Miss Portas, who is the star of the BBC’s Mary Queen of Shops television programme, warned that town centres were at a “crisis point” and could die out.

Richard Swain, chairman of SWBF, said: “The district council’s proposals to increase parking charges are completely at odds with Mary Portas’s recommendations.

“Not only does it urge councils not to raise car park charges but it also recommends bringing in initiatives like free parking in town centres from 3pm onwards to rescue our high streets from their precarious state.”

The plans have been laid out in a review of the council’s pay and display charges, which were put before UDC’s scrutiny committee, and will affect The Common, Rose and Crown, Fairycroft and Swan Meadow car parks.

Council officers have proposed that tariffs for 30 minutes and one hour should increase by 10p to 50p and 70p respectively. A two-hour stay would increase 20p to �1.20 and long-stay fees (up to 10 hours) would rise 50p to �3.50.

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They have also suggested parking should be free after 5pm, instead of 6pm as it is currently, advised that 30-minute tariffs be retained and recommended a longer term tariff at The Common car park.

The new charges would come into effect from April 16 next year, along with a commitment not to make any further increases until at least 2016.

District councillor Susan Barker, who is also chairman of the North Essex Parking Partnership, said increasing income from parking charges was a key part of UDC’s financial strategy and without the increase it could lead to financial difficulties for the council.

“Of course there is a perceived danger that shoppers will go elsewhere if parking charges are increased. But I believe a lot of people in Saffron Walden are loyal to the town, and having to pay 10p more to park is not a huge increase in comparison to the general cost of running a car,” she said.

Mr Swain said he welcomed the council’s other proposals to introduce a pay by text message or card option at all town centre car parks.

However, he said the business community would also like to see the introduction of digital signage to show space availability.

Car parks in Stansted Mountfitchet and Great Dunmow would also be affected by the price hike, which will be discussed at a UDC cabinet meeting on January 19.

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