Cost of parking dominates at politicians’ question time

Question time at The Apex ,part of bury biz fest - Local businesses get to  quiz politicians at the future of business in the area. ''On the panel from left;  , Jane Basham, Daviv Ruffley, John Griffiths, and Tim  Passmore.
Question time at The Apex ,part of bury biz fest - Local businesses get to quiz politicians at the future of business in the area. ''On the panel from left; , Jane Basham, Daviv Ruffley, John Griffiths, and Tim Passmore.

FREE parking and a scheme where you can use your parking ticket to get discounts in shops have emerged among the options being discussed by a council and business leaders.

The cost of car parking was high on the agenda as Bid4Bury hosted a politicians’ question time at The Apex on Thursday.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council put up car parking charges by 10 per cent in April and is now in the midst of a review, prompted after Bid4Bury and the town’s chamber of commerce presented a petition claiming it would damage business.

The latest increases were called a ‘tax on employers’ by one member of the audience at Thursday’s event, part of the Bury Business Festival.

Another said: “Quite often we hear people saying ‘We’d better get back to the car because our parking is running out’.”

He said the council should install pay on exit parking instead of the current pay and display.

Andrew Speed, chairman of Bid4Bury, was on the question time panel. He said there had been no consultation over the charges.

“It has been lumped on in quite a clumsy fashion,” he said.

But he and fellow panel member council leader Cllr John Griffiths, revealed that periods of free parking and a scheme where parking tickets would get you discounts in stores, were both being looked into.

Town MP David Ruffley said car parking charges helped the council pay for other services. “We all have to find the money from somewhere, and that is just a fact of life,” he said.

Cllr Griffiths said: “Car parking is a death by 1,000 cuts. We never get it right. It’s not just about raising money.”

He said it was also about traffic management and, despite the increases, use of the car parks in Bury had gone up by 13 per cent.

Jane Basham, Labour’s candidate in the police and crime commissioner electiions, got the biggest applause when she said it was time for authorities to recognise that people simply had ‘less money in their pockets’.

She disagreed that the increases were not about making money.

Last year, the council raised £1.3 million through car parking charges – April’s increases are expected to deliver an additional £150,000 over the course of the year.

“I think Bury is an expensive place to come to shop. I believe this is something that St Edmundsbury can do to demonstrate to the business community that it is trying to help,” said Ms Basham.

She said Ipswich had cut parking charges and seen visitor numbers go up.

However, Cllr Griffiths said Ipswich was ‘considerably’ more expensive than Bury and had a higher vacancy level of shops.

Tim Passmore, Conservative candidate for the police and crime commissioner, was the final panel member.

“I do think the High Street has a wonderful future but like any other business, and I have an agricultural background, we have to adapt,” he said.

He also said he wanted lower taxes so people had money to spend to grow the economy.