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Council's parking plans for Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay spark thousands of objections

by Lydia Chantler-Hicks, Jack Dyson and Brad Harper

Almost 1,000 residents, schools and businesses have blasted plans to drastically revamp parking across the district.

A staggering 3,324 objections have been made to the city council’s plans to rethink the service in a consultation, in a survey of 981 people which saw just 187 comments in favour of the scheme.

Councillors Chris Cornell, Valerie Ann Kenny and Ashley Clark and café owner Alison Clarke are outraged over plans to make people pay to use car parks in the morning
Councillors Chris Cornell, Valerie Ann Kenny and Ashley Clark and café owner Alison Clarke are outraged over plans to make people pay to use car parks in the morning

The raft of changes put forward by the authority represents the biggest parking shake-up the city has seen in years.

It is hoped the changes will help the council fulfil its climate change declaration, and contribute to the £5 million in savings it must make by 2024.

If given the go-ahead, most tariffs in Canterbury car parks will increase by 40p an hour within three years in a bid to deter drivers from parking in the city centre.

Northgate car park would be closed, while those parking between 7.30am and 9am on weekdays would face premium rates for their whole stay.

The changes would eventually generate an additional £985,600 a year for the council, it predicts. But thousands have raised issues with the controversial scheme.

'It would deter a lot of guests from staying in the city'

“Parking is already prohibitively expensive,” wrote one resident in response to a council survey. “We need to encourage people into the city, not make it difficult for them.”

Another said: “It penalises workers in Canterbury. If you work in an industry with unsociable hours there isn’t another option than parking in central Canterbury.”

A separate survey carried out by Canterbury’s Business Improvement District (BID) found the city’s business community also has “significant concerns”.

In the consultation of 128 traders, 90% said their business would be put at risk by the changes, with half classing that risk as “great”.

At a Canterbury Forum meeting last week, city hoteliers raised concerns about a facet of the proposal that would see 24-hour hotel and guest house parking permits either scrapped or doubled in price over three years, from £6 a day to £12.

Sandie de Rougemont, owner of House of Agnes in St Dunstans
Sandie de Rougemont, owner of House of Agnes in St Dunstans

Sandra Heyworth, of the Cathedral Lodge hotel, said revoking them would have major repercussions.

“If they were removed, based on the proposed charges, it would cost an overnight guest £27.27 to park their car,” she said. “That’s not acceptable. It would deter a lot of guests from staying in the city. If we then had to decrease our room rate by just £10, it would cost the Cathedral Lodge an additional £66,000 a year.”

A spokesman from the Cathedral Gate hotel said profit margins are so slim it would be unable to cut costs, in order to counteract higher charges.

“Scrapping hotels permits would be disastrous for every city centre hotel,” she said.

“Guests that would have booked with us will book an Airbnb.

Canterbury Bid boss Lisa Carlson
Canterbury Bid boss Lisa Carlson

“We sell our cheapest rooms for £50. Guests aren’t going to book a cheap room and then pay £12 for parking.”

Sandie de Rougement, owner of House of Agnes hotel in Wincheap, said city businesses will lose trade if hotel guests are forced elsewhere.

“They’re simply not going to think ‘I’m going to spend all my money in Canterbury’,” she said. “They’re just going to go home.”

Bid spokesman Lisa Carlson said: “Bid are keen to ensure this feedback is seriously considered by the council before it proceeds, so Canterbury businesses can be reassured these changes will not undermine their ability to operate within the city council boundary.”

City council spokesman Rob Davies said: “We’re grateful for the many responses received during the consultation. They have all been included in the committee report, upon which councillors will make their decision on the proposed charges.”

Bob Jones, Lucy Martin and Lisa Carlson of the Bid scheme
Bob Jones, Lucy Martin and Lisa Carlson of the Bid scheme

Axing free parking 'nail in the coffin' for high street

Scrapping free parking in Whitstable during the morning would be the “nail in the coffin” for the high street, according to furious residents and councillors.

Fears have also been raised that the proposals could put children in danger when they are being dropped off outside primary schools.

Objections to the changes to charges and conditions in council car parks were voiced at a meeting of the Whitstable Forum.

The city council has tabled plans to increase the minimum payment in the main car parks in the district to the equivalent one-hour tariff rate.

Cllr Chris Cornell, Cllr Ann Kenny, local business owner Alison Clarke and Cllr Ashley Clarke are outraged over proposed charges
Cllr Chris Cornell, Cllr Ann Kenny, local business owner Alison Clarke and Cllr Ashley Clarke are outraged over proposed charges

Free parking between 8.30am and 10am in Whitstable car parks will also be scrapped under the proposals.

Cllr Ashley Clark (Con), who previously campaigned for free parking to be introduced, labelled the proposals “crass beyond belief”.

“That is my baby as I managed to persuade others to back it four years ago,” the Seasalter councillor said.

“We were getting a situation in the high street with congestion and people dropping off their children not in the best of circumstances - which has contributed to pollution and congestion. At the same time I wanted to benefit local businesses. The idea was people could drop their kids off and go to the shops.

“We should kick this ridiculous proposal right into the long grass - where it belongs.”

'If you want your high street to die, take the free parking away'

He also suggested between 3pm and 4pm Whitstable should have free parking for the school pick-up.

But Cllr Neil Baker (Con) was opposed to this and said: “I agree the period in the morning without a charge should be retained. It clearly does a lot of good - it is not just the easing of congestion, it is useful for businesses as well.

“Of course if there were to be an hour of parking with no charges in the afternoon, it would have to be made up from somewhere to ensure a balanced budget.

“So while it may seem very reasonable, there would of course be a risk that by reducing parking income for that one hour period, you may end up having something rather unpleasant coming in to cover the costs.”

Alison Clarke, Shop by the Sea representative and co-owner of Tankerton café Toast, told the meeting last Wednesday: “The two hours of free parking in the morning gives shops 20% of their revenue for that day - it is as simple as that.

Cllr Neil Baker
Cllr Neil Baker

“I am concerned those businesses which are already on the edge and struggling are going to have to go somewhere else. If you want your high street to die, take [the free parking] away. It is just the nail in the coffin.”

Cllr Clark called for cross-party support in keeping free parking - and received the backing of Labour’s Valerie Ann Kenny and Chris Cornell.

Cllr Kenny also said the proposals would have the knock-on effect of putting pupils’ safety at risk.

“I have been in touch with the teachers in Whitstable and everyone of them has messaged me back expressing their severe concern - on the whole - about safety,” she said. “You can’t just drive, dump your kid there and go off.

“Teachers are worried about children arriving late for school - especially younger children - who need to be calm and in the learning mode

Gorrell councillor Valerie Kenny
Gorrell councillor Valerie Kenny

“If they arrive stressed and upset, that will not help with their learning that day.”

A £2 flat rate overnight charge in the main car parks across the district have also been proposed. There are also plans to increase the hourly rate tariff in Whitstable car parks by 20p in 2020/21, 10p in 2021/22 and 10p in 2022/23 - but no increase in 2023/24.

William Street Car Park in Herne Bay
William Street Car Park in Herne Bay

Leisure centre parking charges 'unfair'

Leisure centre bosses in Herne Bay fear they could lose customers if the controversial shake-up to parking charges is given the go-ahead.

'The biggest worry is people will stop exercising because they can’t afford it.'

Canterbury City Council is proposing to remove the discount at William Street car park to those visiting Herons Leisure Centre.

The local authority also hopes to scrap free parking between 6pm and 9pm at the town centre site and introduce a £2 overnight charge at car parks across the district.

Neil Mason, from Active Life, is worried the William Street leisure centre will be left out of pocket if the changes are given the go-ahead.

He said: “I’m sure we’ll lose people. The biggest worry is people will stop exercising because they can’t afford it.

“It’s going to cost those people who have to drive down to us and use William Street for their swim, or aerobics class, fitness class or whatever it might be.

Cllr Peter Vickery-Jones
Cllr Peter Vickery-Jones

“It’s a no-brainer that it’s going to affect us, particularly if we lose the overnight parking as we have early morning swimmers.

“Most of them are in before going to work or going off on their day. I’m sure there will be some people who won’t bat an eyelid at it, but there are others it will hit quite hard.”

In all, the local authority has received 459 objections to the changes at Herons Leisure Centre - more than any other of the council’s planned parking changes.

The radical plans were discussed at a heated Herne Bay Forum last Tuesday, during which Cllr Peter Vickery-Jones claimed the town was being treated unfairly.

He argued there was “inequality” between the treatment of fitness fanatics in William Street to those at Kingsmead Leisure Centre and Whitstable Swimming Pool, where users will continue to have discounted parking.

Peter Vickery-Jones outside Herons Leisure Centre
Peter Vickery-Jones outside Herons Leisure Centre

“We can’t have unfairness in one part of the district and others with the benefit of having free parking at their leisure centres,” the West Bay representative said.

“I want Herne Bay to have what everyone else has - I want nothing more, I don’t want any advantage over anyone else. There must be a way to deal with this.”

But Richard Moore, the city council’s head of transport, said the car parks at the Canterbury and Whitstable leisure centres are specifically for those using the facilities.

“We do know that other people who aren’t leisure centre users use them, and that’s clearly an enforcement issue that we’re looking to address,” he added.

“We recognise to some it could seem an inequality. The primary reason we’re doing it in Herne Bay is because it’s a public car park, not a designated leisure centre car park.”

The local authority is also bidding to increase the hourly tariff by 40p at Herne Bay car parks over the next three years and increase charges by 40p per hour at Neptune between April and September.

City council spokesman Rob Davies said: “The council and Active Life have been in regular discussion regarding the proposal to remove free parking from William Street.

“While Active Life fully understands the reasons for the proposal, which is about ensuring sufficient capacity for the town, encouraging people to travel sustainably and ensuring we treat businesses in the town equally, it is understandably concerned about the impact of this change on the use of Herons Leisure Centre. Should the proposal be implemented, Active Life will monitor its impact and, with us, explore ways in which any negative impact can be mitigated for.”

The plans will be discussed by the council’s regeneration and property committee this evening.

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

Read more: All the latest news from Herne Bay

Read more:All the latest news from Whitstable

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