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Council says "NO" to Free Parking for Christmas

October 23, 2009 11:21 AM
Free Parking Sign

The ruling Residents' Party would not support free parking on Sundays before Christmas

When Lib Dem councillors asked the council to consider free parking on Sundays, in the run up to Christmas - they did the same last year - there was no guarantee of success!

However, backed by a request from the Business Partnership Board to do something to encourage shoppers to Epsom and thereby increase the town's Christmas spirit, councillors did hope for some support from the ruling Residents' Party. The initial suggestion was for free parking in all car parks on the four Sundays before Christmas - cost to the council about £25,000.

Lib Dem councillors, aware that income from parking this year is down about £250,000 which has serious implications for the annual budget, were careful to suggest ways of offsetting the cost of free parking.

They suggested to a meeting of the Environment Committee on 21st October, that offering the free parking on three or even two pre-Christmas Sundays might be easier to deal with in financial terms and still encourage visitors to the town.

The outcome of the debate was that the Chairman and Vice Chairman will consider charging a flat rate in car parks for the two Sundays before Christmas. Cllr Julie Morris commented "my colleagues and I were sceptical as to whether or not it was actually worth the manpower costs of the changes needed to parking machinery, for just two Sundays, when the net result would be so small. We felt that a big boost to the vitality and Christmas spirit of the town was needed and having all our car parks free on Sundays - at least two of them anyway -would do the trick. Being able to save a few pence in car park charges by offering a flat rate, was merely paying lip-service to what local businesses had said was necessary."

Lib Dem councillors also considered there was scope for regulating car park demand by keeping the Ashley Centre costs the same, but making the other car parks free on the pre-Christmas Sundays. Cllr Morris said "queues for the Ashley Centre always cause a problem at Christmas because it's our most popular car park. Other car parks are less popular, so if these were the only free ones, people might review which car park they chose and traffic congestion at the Ashley Centre car park would be reduced."

Car park charges generally for 2010/11 were also discussed at the Environment Committee meeting. Free parking currently available in Ewell is likely to be up for review and a small increase in the charges for Upper High Street/Depot Road was also agreed in principle, though objected to by Lib Dem councillors. A final decision on car park charges for next year will be made in the new year. Income from car parks is a major factor when it comes to setting the borough council's budget.

Would local residents use car parks more if they were cheaper? But how much cheaper would they need to be? Would the total income then go up or stay the same? If charges were to be reduced would the total income actually go down - because that increased amount of use would not be at a level which would maintain even an existing income stream? It's a tricky one!

Send your views to Cllrs Pavey, Kelly and Morris.