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West Malling: cabinet votes through controversial parking charges

By David Gazet

Campaigners have vowed to continue to fight “tooth and nail” after council bosses voted in favour of introducing controversial parking charges in West Malling.

There were cries of ‘shame’ from the public gallery when members of Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council’s (TMBC) cabinet voted unanimously in favour of scrapping free three-hour parking at the car park behind Tesco in High Street on Tuesday.

Cllr Sophie Shrubsole (Con), speaking on behalf of West Malling Parish Council (WMPC), made an eleventh-hour plea for the borough council to shelve the scheme for six months in order to come up with alternatives.

About 100 residents attended Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council's cabinet meeting to protest against parking charges

About 100 residents attended Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council's cabinet meeting to protest against parking charges

She said: “West Malling Parish Council fully understands the financial landscape in which public bodies operate. We know that savings have to be made, more efficient ways of delivering key services developed and we are keen to work with you to do this.

“We firmly believe that there are other ways of managing parking to produce the savings needed without charging for short-term parking.”

There were angry scenes as the hundred residents and traders attending the meeting shouted down proponents of the controversial new charges, including Cllr Sasha Luck (Con) and cabinet member Cllr Howard Rogers (Con), who said he had received hundreds of emails from people opposed to the plans.

Residents protest outside Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council's offices

Residents protest outside Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council's offices

He said: “I have to acknowledge the huge strength of feeling coming out of these emails. Many of them were personal. Many were express how the charging regime in West Malling would affect them.

“Few, very few even acknowledged the fact there was a cost in providing free parking.

“As a council we are faced with the prospect of millions of pounds worth of cuts we are having to find a means of support. This is just one of many issues the council is considering.”

Cllr Richard Selkirk of WMPC, said the council is ‘considering all options.’

He said: “This isn’t the end of the battle at all. We will continue to fight tooth and nail against parking charges. They will have a huge impact on traders and it is clear this would be a tax on businesses, a tax of parents taking their children to school and a tax on people visiting the doctor”.

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council leader, Nicholas Heslop

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council leader, Nicholas Heslop

Speaking after the meeting, Nicolas Heslop, leader of TMBC, said: “On balance I think the decision to introduce a minor charge in West Malling is the right one. There has been a long-standing history of problems at West Malling’s car park that needed to be resolved.

“There is no evidence it will spell the death knell for traders. If we were talking about high charges that might be different.

"The Borough Council has to address how it deals with the cost recovery of the car park.”

Chairman of West Malling Parish Council was not present at the meeting.

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