Published: 05:00, 27 January 2022
| Updated: 16:10, 27 January 2022
An abandoned car park that has been shut since September is set to reopen in May with new technology as part of a cashless pilot scheme.
The Ashford Borough Council-owned Park Mall car park closed with just 32 hours notice last year after its operator NCP decided to shut the site.
The authority then took over operations and now plans to reopen the facility with reduced fees and automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR) technology, similar to that already used in Elwick Place.
The payment machines will no longer take cash. Instead motorists will be encouraged to pay by card, using their phone, or via an online account.
If the pilot goes well, cashless parking will be expanded into the nearby Edinburgh Road car park which is next on the council’s list of sites to introduce ANPR.
It hopes to roll out the technology to all of its car parks in the near future with the aim of phasing out tickets and cash entirely.
The move is based on the fact 93% of payments at Elwick Place are cashless, and the assumption less people want to use physical money since the start of the pandemic.
Those who prefer to pay with change will be encouraged to park elsewhere including the Civic/Stour Centre, Dover Place, Elwick Place, Elwick Road, Station Road and Vicarage Lane.
To have the technology installed in the 300-space Park Mall site, it will cost the council just under £53,000.
The total will go up to £137,500 when Edinburgh Road is included with an upkeep fee of about £22,000 per year for both car parks.
Prices at both sites will also be cut under the plans in a bid to drive more people into the town centre.
The hourly rate at the NCP car park before it closed was £1.60, with four to 24 hours costing £5.60.
Edinburgh Road currently has an hourly rate of £1.20, with a £5.50 charge for over four hours but this will soon drop.
If the changes go ahead, from 6am to 3pm, it will cost £1 per hour up to 4 hours in both sites, and £5 for anything over four hours.
It will be free all day on Sundays and bank holidays.
From 3pm it will also be free however, unlike Elwick Place, an overnight fee of £1.50 will be enforced from 6pm.
For those looking for long stays of up to 24 hours, it will cost £10.
The aim is for these charges to be introduced in both car parks on April 1 however documents suggest Park Mall will not reopen until May.
Extra CCTV cameras are also being installed on the stairwells at Edinburgh Road with ‘safer streets’ funding.
If approved by cabinet tonight (Thursday), the technology will be installed in Park Mall while current repairs and upgrades are carried out.
A financial review will be conducted after six months.
ABC bought the two-storey site from Chariot Investment Holdings in December 2020 for an undisclosed fee.
Policy holder for community safety, Cllr Peter Feacey (Con), said: “No longer will customers have to worry about the stress of ticket loss or returning to top-up, and when they are ready to leave they have lots of choice as to how to pay for their parking session.
“With online accounts they never have to go near a terminal again.
“I am supportive of the gradual move towards cashless parking and see the pilot as an opportunity to check that it works for our customers.”