Published: 06:00, 25 January 2021
| Updated: 16:41, 25 January 2021
Angry businesses already struggling with the effects of the pandemic have branded plans to hike parking charges across the Canterbury district as “absurd” and “greedy”.
The Conservative-led city council is to increase the rate at some sites by as much as 70p an hour, which critics claim will “kill the high street”.
Business leaders say the hikes will inevitably lead to a downturn in footfall, but councillors approved the controversial proposals on Thursday.
Canterbury Business Improvement District (BID) chief executive Lisa Carlson said: “Nobody would argue that if you increase car parking charges it won’t have a negative impact on footfall - particularly at a time when recovery planning is so significant and important.
“It will impact the choices people make, particularly as you can park for free at other shopping centres. We want to work with businesses and help them through this.”
BID surveyed 54 city businesses, with 94% saying trade will be harmed by price increases.
A further 181 objections were received during a city council consultation, with just 38 submissions in support.
Opponents branded the scheme “ridiculous” and accused the council of “killing the high street”.
One resident said: “The high streets are dying and you’re only serving to persuade shoppers to go elsewhere. Petrol to Bluewater and back is close to the cost of parking.”
As part of the proposals, prices will be increased most in the busiest, city centre car parks, with others hit by less severe hikes. Some sites will even see tariffs fall.
Drivers opting to park in the heart of the city - Watling Street and Queningate - will pay £2.80 an hour (up 70p), while those further away - in Castle Street - will pay £1.80 (down 20p).
Meanwhile, rates at the likes of Whitefriars, Pound Lane, St Radigunds and Longport - where there is medium demand - will rise to £2.30 (up 30p).
The daily cost of Park and Ride will also jump from £3.50 to £4.
While businesses fear the parking hikes will harm their custom, council leader Ben Fitter-Harding has moved to allay the fears.
“It is entirely fair and understandable for businesses to be concerned about increased charges, and I realise it isn’t something they would like to see,” he said.
“But I don’t think they should be concerned, as we are listening to them and are proposing something which takes into account their concerns. They should take comfort that we’re not just increasing prices, we’re also decreasing them and coming up with incentives.
“Demand is very high at our busiest car parks to the point where you can’t fit anymore people in as they are full.
“Therefore heightened charges are not going to affect the usage of those car parks. They are a charge on convenience and the congestion impact they have on the city.
“Hopefully businesses can encourage their customers to gravitate towards the sites with cheaper parking.”
Incentives being considered include discounted parking fees for shoppers who spend more than £20 in a particular shop, cheaper evening parking, or free parking days for electric cars.
“Coming out of the pandemic, the very last thing we want to do is disadvantage our businesses and cause them problems,” Cllr Fitter-Harding said.
“We’re considering the broader picture and I’m very confident we’ve approached it in the fairest way possible.
“The package as a whole is a very compelling one, which can raise money for the council and also help businesses with marketing and promotions.”
But BID boss Mrs Carlson is not convinced.
“Looking at it in isolation, it is hard to predict whether this will actually change people’s behaviour and get people to use the other car parks,” she said.
'The very last thing we want to do is disadvantage our businesses and cause them problems...'
“If we don’t have an improved public transport system, or look at how park and ride and other forms of transport work alongside that, I think it’s a challenge to influence behaviour.”
“Therefore we want to focus our time and energy on things that can positively support the business community.”
Traders in the city are fearful of the impact the changed parking tariffs will have on business post-lockdown.
Steve Bamber, chairman of the Canterbury Market Traders Association, believes the 70p hike at Watling Street and Queningate is too high.
He says with the street market attracting a high number of elderly customers, it is users of those car parks who will be worst-hit by the heightened fees.
“If you’re parking in Canterbury for a few hours you’ve already spent about a tenner before you get out of the car,” Mr Bamber said.
“Any increase is not welcome and 70p is a big rise.
“I do understand the financial situation the council is in, and it needs the money, but it’s going to hurt traders. It’s a catch-22 scenario; the council is a business now - that’s how it’s run.
“It’d be better if they could flatten it out and even the increases out across all the city’s car parks. It then wouldn’t be such a big hit on those in the middle of the city, so I feel they definitely should have looked at it differently.
“If it all gets back to normal it’ll all be about survival; we’re going to really have to hope the high street is going to be there.”
Sedat Ozdogan, who has run Westgate Dry Cleaners for more than 20 years, shares the fears about the future of the city and the effect of parking hikes.
“It’s the most expensive place to park anywhere in Kent,” he said. “We were hardly getting people into the high street anyway and now they want to do this.
“If they want to help traders out by doing discounts for shoppers then that would be good. They should surely be helping us.
“There is nowhere around here for free parking for very short stays, like 15 to 20 minutes. That would really help traders out, but it’s all about getting more money.”
In Herne Bay, the hourly rate between April and September at Reculver Towers and Reculver Country Park will rise by 40p to £1.80.
Charges will also be introduced at Hampton, Reculver Drive, Ocean View, Swalecliffe Avenue car parks, which are currently all free.
Along the coast in Whitstable, the two main car parks will see their fees increase by 40p an hour between April and September.
The whole district parking policy is recommended for approval.
Councillors will vote on the plans at the regeneration committee before they are officially rubber-stamped in February, and then enforced from April 1.