Increases in parking charges for Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable have been pushed through, despite the reservations of town centre traders.
The increases, to be introduced universally across Central Beds, are set to come into force in January, after being approved at a meeting of Central Beds Council on Thursday.
The cost of parking for 30 minutes will rise to 50p (previously 20p), with up to one hour £1 (previously 50p), two hours £1 (£1 or 50p), three hours £2 (£1.50), 10 hours £6.50 (£6), one week £15 (£12.80) and a lost token £8 (£5.50).
Councillors worried about the hikes were able to negotiate keeping the two-hour rate to £1 instead of the originally intended £1.50. By having both the one-hour and two-hour brackets at £1 it is hoped people will be encouraged to stay in town for longer.
The plans will also see the introduction of new ‘pay on exit’ parking machines from August 2016.
Leader of the council, Councillor James Jamieson, told Thursday’s meeting he accepted the need to support town centre traders.
He said: “Therefore we are suggesting that there should be two hours of free parking once a week in the Duncombe Drive car park in Leighton Buzzard and Ashton Square in Dunstable at a time when footfall isn’t particularly high to drive it to a higher level.”
He said the best time to do this would be debated locally at partnership committee meetings.
Councillor Jamieson added the initiative would continue until Pay On Exit technology had been installed and then the results would be evaluated to see if it could continue.
Councillor Carole Hegley describe the fees hike as “a thorny issue” and was ill-timed given the council was inviting bids from town councils for a slice of £4million in capital funding to help reinvigorate their market towns.
She called for the council to look at additional parking enforcement in residential streets.
Councillor Peter Hollick said it would be an interesting debate on what time the two-hour free parking should be trialled.
He added: “It’s a little bit like taking the rug from under the feet to have an increase in charges at this time, but we need to make a realistic decision. I still have a concern about perception and the effect locally.”
Councillor Brian Spurr said Pay On Exit would be a boost to town centres. He said: “I have not had a single business in Leighton Buzzard who hasn’t bent my ear on and on again about Pay On Exit, because the people stay in town, do their shopping, look around and not rush back to get to the car park.”
He said the new method would generate more money. “There are people who don’t pay anything. They just whip in, park there, go off for 15, 30 minutes or an hour and don’t buy a ticket and then drive straight back out.
“We do have traffic wardens who check out our car parks. When we get Pay On Exit we won’t need them there and they can go and patrol other areas.”
Councillor Spurr added: “I don’t want to put parking charges up. I park like everyone else does. If someone else would like to tell me where I can save the money that we are going to get from this and gives us better supervision around the rest of Central Beds, then I will happily take it.”
When the charges were first revealed last month, a Central Bedfordshire Council spokesperson said: “The proposal to increase car parking charges will be the first in a number of years and bring all Central Bedfordshire Council car park charges to the same level making it consistent across the area.
“The proposed decision to make both 1 hour parking and 2 hour parking £1 is to encourage residents to stay longer in our towns. Duration over two hours will rise moderately but again be consistent across Central Bedfordshire.
“At the same time as considering increasing car parking charges we are also looking at improving technology in our four busiest car parks, this includes ‘pay on exit’ machines which will allow customers to pay for how long they parked rather than having to guess how long they will park there and over paying.”