Parking charges across the Cotswolds will increase in September after a last-minute motion to delay the increases was defeated by a single vote last night.
Parking in council-owned car parks will increase by 30 percent on September 1 following the Cotswold District Council full council meeting.
Before the meeting started, two petitions were presented to councillors from the independent Cirencester Town Centre Forum.
Over 150 retail business owners and 100 stall holders from Corn Hall Market Place had signed the petitions saying they disagreed with the rise and claimed it would be harmful to their business.
A further study was presented by the independent Cirencester Chamber of Commerce, and from 48 replies to their survey the overwhelming majority said parking charges were important to the high street during the COVID-19 recovery phase and 75 percent said the massive increase would have a significant impact on them.
During the meeting, a proposal was put forward by the Green Party representative (Cllr Andrew Maclean – The Rissingtons) and the Independent councillor (Cllr Nikki Ind – Tetbury East and Rural) to defer the increases for four months until after Christmas, but this idea was lost by a single vote with all 17 present Liberal Democrats voting against the delay and all other councillors voting to support it.
Cllr Richard Morgan, leader of the Opposition Conservative Group said: “It was such a shame; we were so close to delaying this terrible decision.
“We just needed one Liberal Democrat back bencher to cross over and support the amendment and we could have delayed the 30 percent increases and supported our retail businesses until after the crucial (and hopefully busy) Christmas shopping season.
“I still cannot understand the Lib Dem position on this one!
“CDC has financial reserves of over £33 million. Since the start of the pandemic, the Government has given CDC £941,887 emergency funding and also said it would cover 75p in every pound of lost revenue caused by the pandemic.
“This is significant support for a council that only has a net budget requirement of £12 million.
“The residents of the Cotswolds should know the 30 percent increase at this crucial time is a political choice, not a financial necessity.”
“Ultimately this means we are making life much harder for business owners as they try to recover from lockdown and as they are staring down the barrel of a gun of a potential second wave.
“It’s also a regressive move which will hurt our poorer residents most. For example, a low paid, full time retail worker will now have to pay an extra £400 a year to park their cars in town so they can keep their jobs.”
The full motion to completely abandon the 30 percent increase was also lost 14 vs 19, with only the 14 Conservative party members voting to support it.
A spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Group on Cotswold District Council said: “Last night councillors rejected an attempt by the Conservatives to reverse a rise in parking charges that had been agreed in principle by the council in February and by its cabinet in detail on July 6.
“For most of our car parks, charges will go up by 30p to £1.60 for an hour, by 50p to £2.80 for two hours and by 70p to £3.70 for three hours. For four of them, the rises will be smaller.
“The Liberal Democrat Administration at the council recognises that this is a difficult time for businesses.
“It is also a difficult time for local authorities as their finances are under extreme pressure.
“The changes to our car parks, which include the introduction this autumn of 20-minute free parking bays in four of our car parks in Cirencester, Tetbury and Moreton-in-Marsh, followed work to comparing our charges with neighbouring towns and cities, notably Cheltenham, Gloucester and Swindon.
“These rises are the first increase in the cost of parking in the council’s car parks in ten years and during a public consultation in January on the council’s budget, 44 percent of respondents agreed that the proposed rises were fair compared to 36 percent who disagreed.
When the Liberal Democrats took over the council last year, they inherited a financial strategy which required the council to find £1m of savings in the revenue budget in 2020/21.
“The increase in parking charges, which is budgeted to deliver £400k in a full year, formed a major element of closing this ‘budget blackhole’.”
Commenting on last night’s debate, Cllr Mike Evemy, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance added: ‘I’m pleased my fellow Liberal Democrat councillors rejected the proposals to scrap or defer the increases to charges in our car parks.
“Delaying the rise until April 2021 would have cost the council £240,000 – at a time when our finances are under severe pressure due to the pandemic.
“We understand the concerns of businesses about the numbers of people visiting our towns and supporting them, but don’t believe that these rises will have any negative impact on the numbers of people coming into our town centres.
“Indeed, we expect our new free 20-minute bays to encourage more visits.”