Increased car parking charges on the cards for Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable
Consultation to take place soon on 50p increase for most time bands across Central Bedfordshire sites
A claim increased parking charge plans in Central Bedfordshire are "abusing Leighton Buzzard" without an hour free option has been labelled "disingenuous" by the council leader.
Two Linslade councillors would prefer a short-term free parking alternative to enable local high streets to compete with retail outlets on the outskirts of towns.
Residents are set to pay more to use Central Bedfordshire Council car parks, subject to a consultation process.
Parking for up to half an hour will remain at 50p, but it will cost 50p more than the current price for the length of stay thereafter.
A report to Central Bedfordshire Council's Executive showed the current tariffs in the council's car parks (with proposed new price in brackets): Up to 30 minutes £0.50 (£0.50); Up to 1 hour - depending on location - £1/£1.50 (£1.50/£2); Up to 2 hours - depending on location - £1/£1.50 (£1.50/£2); Up to 3 hours £2 (£2.50); Up to 5 hours £3.50 (£4); Up to 10 hours £6.50 (£7); Weekly £15 (£17.50).
Only a month ago the LBO reported how Leighton-Linslade Town Council was pushing for a three-month trial of free parking in all town centre car parks with the ultimate aim of making it permanent. It was due to write to CBC offering to underwrite the cost of lost income. It also wished to enter negotiations about transferring ownership and/or control of the car parks serving the High Street to the town council.
Head of community safety Jeanette Kite told the meetimg: "The council last increased parking fees and charges in 2017 and the review scheduled for last year was postponed because of the pandemic.
"The proposed increases are set out in the council's medium-term financial plan and approval is sought for a 12-week public consultation. A further report with the consultation outcomes will return to the executive."
Liberal Democrat Linslade councillor Peter Snelling said: "This isn't the time to start considering increased fees given the fragility of the economy and the high street.
"I don't think these proposals would do any favours to the high streets in Dunstable or Leighton Buzzard.
"We should be doing the opposite by moving to start reducing parking fees and eventually abolishing them.
"We're saddled with the legacy of the old district council. It decided to use it as a cash cow and held on to car parks.
"I hope the council will look at this properly and not predetermine the outcome because there's already £300,000 in the budget (planning)."
Independent Linslade councillor Victoria Harvey agreed, saying: "There's a huge desire for half an hour or an hour free parking from the Federation of Small Businesses and many retailers. We must balance between the out-of-town retail park and the town centre.
"Unfortunately, CBC has failed to deliver any benches for anyone to sit on in the High Street during the last year.
"If this consultation comes across on top of the neglect of the High Street, so that Leighton Buzzard is viewed as purely a cash cow for the rest of the authority, it will disguise some of the key issues.
"The point I'm begging for is this consultation includes that option (hour free parking). If it doesn't, it looks as if CBC is just abusing Leighton Buzzard."
Independent Woburn and Aspley councillor John Baker said: "I believe the council very generously spent £110,000 on Leighton Buzzard High Street recently for pedestrianisation.
"That's a huge investment and it's got to be paid for somehow."
Conservative council leader and Arlesey councillor Richard Wenham replied: "Frankly I find it quite astonishing the comments I've just heard.
"Money has been lavished on Leighton Buzzard High Street with the pedestrianisation and other schemes. So to hear councillor Harvey going on that line is extremely disingenuous.
"But I never thought I'd hear the day when a Liberal Democrat wishes to encourage car use. I thought the Lib Dems were in favour of getting to net zero quicker than the current ruling party.
"To reduce parking charges over time to zero would surely encourage further car use in our congested town centres. Parking isn't a cash cow and proceeds are reinvested."
Conservative Arlesey councillor Ian Dalgarno said: "I agree it's very difficult at this time for every high street.
"There's a medium-term financial plan and £300,000 is in that. If we don't find those funds from parking, savings will have to be found from elsewhere in the authority.
"A substantial amount of money went to Leighton Buzzard or to the town council with the recommendation it provides benches to improve the high street."
What do you think? Is it the right time to increase parking charges? Email [email protected]