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Anger over plans to hike car parking charges in Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay

Motorists are set to be hit with increased parking fees of up to £3.50 an hour as a city council attempts to plug its massive £5 million deficit.

Canterbury City Council has revealed its draft budget for the next two financial years, laying out plans to raise both parking tariffs and council tax in a bid to recoup some of the millions of pounds it lost during the pandemic.

Watling Street car park in Canterbury. Picture: Gerry Warren
Watling Street car park in Canterbury. Picture: Gerry Warren

But shop owners say they “will lose customers” if visitors are charged more for parking, while Canterbury’s Labour leader has slammed the proposals.

The city council lost £3 million during the pandemic, but hopes raising parking charges will bring in an extra £1.7 million over the next two years.

Prices would increase at the majority of Canterbury’s parking spots.

Motorists in the most popular Watling Street and Queningate car parks would be hit with a “premium tariff”, with rates rising from £2.80 an hour to £3.50 by 2023/24.

Cllr Dave Wilson, leader of Canterbury Labour Group, criticised the proposal, saying: “Hiking prices by between 12 and 14% [in 2022/23] is massive, and it’s not going to help the city centre regenerate.

“But this is what happens when you get into a position when a council is financially desperate, and this council is financially desperate.

“We’ve seen them scratching around down the back of the metaphorical sofa for loose change - making all sorts of stupid little cuts - and their real problem is they’ve borrowed too much and spent it badly.”

Rates were hiked at Watling Street and Queningate in last year’s budget too, in a bid to disperse drivers and encourage people to park at less-used sites.

But Cllr Wilson said: “Car parking is a mechanism and it needs to balance both the changes we want to see in people’s behaviour and the need to economically regenerate the city, and this doesn’t do either of those.”

The budget proposal has also sparked concerns from city councillor Mike Sole (Lib Dem), who said: "This budget is the result of a council that has overspent on capital projects.

Leader of the Canterbury Labour group, Dave Wilson
Leader of the Canterbury Labour group, Dave Wilson

"Whilst the bins overflow into dirty streets, flytipping remains uncollected it hides from the public behind a wall of automated phone systems, and proposes higher car parking charges and reductions in services.

"When it comes to balancing the books to fill the holes left by overspends on the city security bollards, Parham Road housing and wasted grandiose schemes like Station Road West car park or the purchase of Whitefriars, this council once again, unimaginatively just seeks to pick the pockets of car park users, which will drive business away from the city traders."

But the city council’s chief executive Colin Carmichael has defended the plans.

He said: “If we don’t set relatively high charges in the city centre everybody will drive in, nobody will use park and ride, and the city will be completely log-jammed.

“So we have to somehow ration it.”

Mr Carmichael says he does not believe the increase will negatively impact visitor numbers.

Canterbury City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael
Canterbury City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael

“All of our information shows that people will come and park in those car parks,” he said. “They’re always 100% full whatever the charge.

“I reckon we could probably double the hourly rate and people would still come and park there. But we’re not going to do that.”

Olivia Stewart, the manager at Fitzgerald Jewellers in Burgate, Canterbury, fears increasing car parking charges will impact visitor numbers.

“Surely we just want to fill the car parking spaces?” she said.

“If there are less visitors into the city, that’s going to have a knock-on effect.

“The changes at Queningate will definitely affect us because it’s the closest car park to us for a long way, and with the new bollards people can’t drive down here.

“I just don’t think the council is looking at the bigger picture.”

Olivia Stewart, manager of Fitzgerald Jewellers in Burgate, Canterbury
Olivia Stewart, manager of Fitzgerald Jewellers in Burgate, Canterbury

Mr Carmichael stresses that local people will still have access to 1,000 spaces in car parks where tariffs are remaining the same - at Holmans Meadow, and the multi-storeys in Station Road West and Castle Street.

Meanwhile, the cost of using the city’s three park and ride services will stay the same at £4 a day.

Deputy chief executive Tricia Marshall acknowledges that increasing parking fees is “a very hard sell”, but added: “They make up more than 25% of the council’s income and are vital to the council’s financial wellbeing - and our ability to deliver the services our residents want and need.

“The biggest proposed increases in charges are targeted at our most convenient and often most-congested and polluted car parks, which are popular with visitors from out of the area - and so ensures they contribute to the district’s upkeep.”

The council will also be raising its council tax precept by 2.29%.

This will see residents in an average Band D property pay an extra £4.95 a year - or just over a penny a day - towards the council’s slice of the levy, which equates to just over 11p of every £1 it collects.

Meanwhile, the cost of various amenities will also be increasing - including the hiring of sports pitches, and allotments.

The council also hopes to save £39,000 by pulling funding from the Whitstable Oyster Festival, Canterbury Food and Drink Festival and BayFest, and another £9,000 by closing down tourism websites for Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay.

But it’s not all bad news, as the budget also sets out a range of investment plans.

Over two years, the city council plans to invest £8.2m on refurbishing leisure centres, chiefly Kingsmead in Canterbury.

It also plans to pump an extra £88,000 into bin collections, and spend £1 million replacing the bin lorries acquired from Serco when the city council took waste collections in house.

Another £190,000 will be invested to help deal with a backlog of planning breaches, £15,000 spent on conservation projects and £40,000 on air quality monitoring equipment.

Meanwhile, an extra £250,000 will go to grounds maintenance, including emptying bins in seafront spots that are often blighted by litter in summer months.

Mr Carmichael said: “The pandemic has hit us in the pocket really hard, especially when it comes to property and parking income because successive councils have, wisely, not wanted us to simply rely on our small share of the council tax we collect to pay for vital services.

“There are some very tough choices ahead around prioritising the services we provide that, unlike the vast majority of councils in the county, we have not yet had to face.”

The draft budget will be considered by the council’s Policy Committee on Wednesday, and will then go out to public consultation from November 15 until January 3.

The Policy Committee will also consider the draft budget for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) - the finances behind the council’s housing stock - at its meeting on December 6, ahead of a four-week consultation.

The Policy Committee is due to consider feedback from both consultations on February 9, before making recommendations to Full Council, which will make its final decision on February 21.

Keam's Yard car park in Whitstable. Picture: Joe Wright
Keam's Yard car park in Whitstable. Picture: Joe Wright

Whitstable and Herne Bay

Hikes to parking charges have sparked fears tourists could be discouraged from visiting coastal towns - while residents could be put off shopping there.

Councillors are proposing to hike tariffs at Whitstable’s most popular car parks - Gorrell Tank and Keams Yard - from £2.50 an hour in the summer months to £3.10 in 2023.

It would mean visitors spending eight hours in the town having to fork out almost £25 for their stay.

The picture is similar in Herne Bay, where popular car parks at Neptune’s Arm, Reculver Towers and Reculver Country Park will rise from £1.90 in summer months to £2.30 in 2023.

Mary Jane Higginson, owner of Buttercup toy shop in Whitstable’s Harbour Street, says she “will lose customers” if the changes are made.

She said: “It’s very disappointing to hear that the council are doing something which will hinder shopping in the towns.

Mary Jane Higginson, owner of Buttercup toyshop in Whitstable's Harbour Street. Picture: Paul Amos
Mary Jane Higginson, owner of Buttercup toyshop in Whitstable's Harbour Street. Picture: Paul Amos

“In Whitstable we’ve had a difficult time trying to keep our businesses going. I definitely don’t welcome higher parking charges in the town.”

Ms Higginson fears the higher tariffs could mean people spend less time in the town, which lacks park and ride facilities.

“We have a small shop so I limit the amount of people coming in, because of the pandemic,” she said.

“People do have to wait sometimes, so if they’re thinking about getting back to a car because charges are so high I definitely will lose customers.

“Parking is difficult in Whitstable anyway, so we need all the help we can to help shops and people visiting the town.”

But responding to fears higher charges will drive away customers, Mr Carmichael says he has faith in “the enormous amount of interest there is from summer visitors, particularly in Whitstable but also Herne Bay”.

“That’s why very deliberately this is a summer increase and we’re not doing the same in the winter,” he added.

“The evidence doesn’t show that we put people off by this kind of charging.

“Just thinking about last summer - the amount of activity we had in Whitstable despite the charging, with people coming to the district from all over the place, shows that it’s an incredibly popular town.”

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