Major changes will be made to parking in the Cotswolds as the district council attempts to balance its budget.
A raft of changes, most notably the removal of the ‘Free after 3pm’ scheme from six car parks, were unanimously approved by‘s cabinet on Monday.
Car parks impacted are Brewery and Forum in Cirencester, West Street and Church Street in Tetbury, Maugersbury Road in Stow-on-the-Wold and Old Market Way in Moreton-in-Marsh.
The change is expected to raise an extra £350,000 in revenue, but has been opposed by some traders and opposition councillors.
Linda Purvis, who runs Cirencester clothes shop Encore, told the council: “We rely on people coming in after three o’clock.
“We also have budgets as well, it’s been hell the last two years. We need as much help as we can.
“Is the money more important than trade in town?
“Everybody loves Cirencester because of the independent businesses. Surely helping us out is more important than the money you are going to bring in?”
But Cllr Mike Evemy, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said he did not believe traders would see a ‘significant effect’.
“Our revenue budget is under severe pressure and we need to look at finding more revenue to continue to meet the needs of residents.
“The financial constraints of the council are such that we cannot afford to give away parking.
“We recognise businesses have gone through a really tough time but they also need a council that is strong and supporting them.
“We have to balance our budget. I do accept it would be preferable for people if we didn’t make changes.”
During the budget consultation residents were offered a choice of eight options. While 42 per cent wanted parking charges to remain as they are, the next most popular option (14 per cent) was to scrap the ‘free after 3pm’ scheme in order to maintain free parking on Sundays, during evenings (after 6pm) and overnight.
The question received 430 responses, meaning it was answered by less than one per cent of the electorate.
Cllr Tony Berry, leader of the opposition Conservative group that introduced ‘Free after 3pm’ around 10 years ago, said ahead of the meeting: “This cannot be used as a consultation from which to draw meaningful insights or make decisions against.”
“‘Free after 3pm’ extends the trading window, it is an incentive for people to shop in our market towns throughout the day, especially during the dark winter months.”
Summarising the reasons for the decision Cllr Evemy said: “Clearly it’s not going to be popular but bluntly it’s a luxury we can’t afford any more.
“It’s out of line with other places. There are not many places where the two principle car parks are free after three o’clock in the afternoon.
“We’ve got great towns people want to come to. What we’re seeking to do is secure the financial position of the council and do the least worst of the options.”
Other changes agreed include all the council’s car park fees being increased by 5 per cent (rounded up to the nearest 10p) from April 2022.