SHOPS and businesses in Bury St Edmunds are battling a move to increase car parking charges which will be decided in just a few days time.
Following the announcement from St Edmundsbury Borough Council that it plans to raise charges in town centre car parks by 10 per cent from April 1, business leaders are putting together a petition and lobbying residents to oppose the plans which are due to get the final approval at Tuesday’s full council meeting.
Suffolk County Council has also announced that it will be increasing the cost of on-street parking by around the same amount.
St Edmundsbury has defended its decision, saying that car parking charges in the town centre will remain much cheaper than competing shopping centres. However, shop and business owners have expressed concerns that the increases will effect the number of people travelling to shop in the town.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of Bid4Bury, said: “The problem is that we will not know that the charges have been increased by too much until the number of visitors to the town centre begins to fall.
“It will be much harder to resolve the problem once it has occurred – the council claims to want to help businesses but actions speak louder than words.”
The borough council has increased charges in the town’s car parks every year for the past five years. The latest increases will see prices rise from £2 to £2.20 for more than four hours parking in a long stay car park and from £2.50 to £2.70 for more than two hours parking in the arc short stay car park.
It is projected that these increases will raise £150,000 in a year when the council faces a £3.5 million shortfall due to cuts in government grants and the freezing of Council Tax.
Cllr Terry Clements, cabinet member responsible for planning and transport, said: “There are a number of measures we have looked at to cut costs. These are difficult times but we maintain that we have made a considerable investment in Bury St Edmunds town centre. This has included making sure there is enough car parking and establishing a park and ride service.”
Mr Cordell said: “We do appreciate it’s a tricky time but this is an unimaginative solution to the council’s budget problems – car parking charges were also increased last year and it’s likely the council will raise them again next year.”
Kate Palliser, owner of Scarlet shoe boutique in The Traverse, said: “I’m very concerned about the effect the increases will have. It’s already expensive to come shopping in Bury and further rises will reduce the number of people who will choose to come and shop here.”
Of the 2,000 people questioned by St Edmundsbury, during the consultation stage of the proposal, 45 per cent approved of the increase, 47 per cent were against any increase and six per cent had no opinion.
Cllr Clements said: “The feedback we received has suggested that people believe that car parking charges in Bury Sare more than reasonable.”
Bid4Bury and Bury St Edmunds Chamber of Commerce are putting together a petition against the increases and asking residents and business owners to write to councillors.