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Castle Fields car park extension in Tonbridge abandoned but charges remain on Sundays and Martin Square in Larkfield and Bailey Bridge in Aylesford

A council has made a U-turn on plans to build a car park on a cherished green space, loved by local children.

But while the 3,290 people who signed the petition to save Upper Castle Fields in Tonbridge won their case, the 3,293 people who signed a petition opposing the extension of car parking charges into the evening and on Sundays were disappointed.

The play space behind Upper Castle Fields car park
The play space behind Upper Castle Fields car park

Cabinet members at Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council voted last night (Tuesday) to stick to their plans to start charging for parking until 8pm daily and to introduce charges on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

They made one concession - that the first half-hour parking would be free on all days of the week, in the council’s six short-term car parks.

They are at Lamberts Yard, Bradford Street, River Lawn, Kinnings Row and Upper Castle Grounds, all in Tonbridge.

Earlier, the cabinet heard speeches from two of the petitioners from the Slade Area Residents Association opposing the extension of the Upper Castle Fields car park into adjacent green space.

Jacquie Wyatt spoke of how the green space was used by children and dog walkers.

Jacquie Wyatt
Jacquie Wyatt

She said: “There’s a reason it’s known as Castle Fields.”

Dr Ruth Herbert pointed out that traffic surveys used by the council to justify the extension of the car park onto the green space had been carried out on two exceptionally busy days just before Christmas, which she described as “confirmation bias.”

Cllr Adem Mehmet (Con) said he felt “quite strongly that (the extension) is a bad idea”.

He said: “The damage done to the castle would be permanent,” and he spoke of green space being a “finite resource.”

Cllr Mark Rhodes (Con) said there had been some “fanciful” words spoken about the value of the green space and sarcastically suggested that perhaps there might also be “unicorns flying over it.”

The children of Slade Primary School make their views on the proposed extension of Castle Fields car park known
The children of Slade Primary School make their views on the proposed extension of Castle Fields car park known

But he said he too supported the withdrawal of the planned extension.

Cllr Mark Hood (Green) said that some of his Conservative colleagues appeared to have had “a road to Damascus moment,” but he observed: “Nevertheless, I’m very glad to see their change in position.”

Cllr Garry Bridge (Lib Dem) pointed out that the two days of traffic surveys, which had found the car park to be near full, had also been on days when there was a national rail strike, so more people were using their cars.

He said: “I definitely don’t want to lose green space on the basis of a dodgy dossier.”

The cabinet agreed unanimously to drop the planned extension.

The children of Slade Primary School make their views on the proposed extension of Castle Fields car park known
The children of Slade Primary School make their views on the proposed extension of Castle Fields car park known

The meeting also heard from two supporters of the petition not to extend car parking charges.

Kay Sinclair told the cabinet that 27 businesses had hosted the petition because they were all concerned about the adverse effect the extra charges would have on custom.

She said the charges would “devastate the High Street and be the death of the community.”

Graham Simmonds told the council that by ignoring the strong public opposition to the charges, the council was giving the impression that it didn’t care about its voters and that “democracy was dead.”

Cabinet member Martin Coffin (Con) said that not introducing Sunday parking would cost the council £107,000 in lost income. His mitigation proposal of half an hour free on every day would cost £50,000 in lost income but would encourage pop-in, pop-out shopping.

Kay Sinclair spoke against Sunday charges
Kay Sinclair spoke against Sunday charges

Cllr Franni Hoskings (Lib Dem) said the council was not being consistent - parking in some parts of the borough, such as East Peckham and Wateringbury, remained completely free. She suggested charging for weekday parking there could raise enough income to obviate the need for Sunday charges.

Cllr Lee Athwal (Green) suggested there could be a compromise such as a flat £1 fee for four hours’ parking on Sunday. She urged the cabinet to delay the decisions and investigate alternatives.

But cabinet member Cllr Kim Tanner (Con) said the proposed charges were necessary.

She said: “We have to find £1.78m in savings by 2029.”

And council leader Matt Boughton (Con) said he was not convinced that Sunday charging would collapse business. He said: “We charge on the other six days a week and our High Street is thriving.”

Cllr Lee Athwal: Let's look at alternatives
Cllr Lee Athwal: Let's look at alternatives

The cabinet voted unanimously to bring in the new charges.

Other matters were also considered.

Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem) made a last-ditch attempt to persuade the cabinet not to introduce on-street parking charges in West Malling, saying the cabinet had gone against its own constitution by not evaluating alternative schemes put forward by the parish council and by the West Malling Chamber of Commerce.

But the council’s chief solicitor, Adrian Stanfield, said the provisions in the constitution were “very broad” and he didn’t think it had been set aside.

The cabinet voted to keep the new charges.

Charges will be introduced at Martin Square
Charges will be introduced at Martin Square

On proposals to introduce charges to the Martin Square car park in Larkfield, which is currently free, the cabinet did make some concessions.

It will allow one-hour free parking to enable quick visits to the shops and will also offer local residents a parking permit at a reduced price of £120 per year.

On the two Bailey Bridge car parks in Aylesford, where it had proposed charges be introduced, the cabinet agreed to allow one-hour free parking, and again to make permits available to local residents at a cost of £120 per year.

But the charges at Aylesford will not be introduced until a proposed extension to the east car park had been carried out and this would now be fast-tracked.

The cabinet had previously proposed issuing permits through the local school for parents to pick up and drop off their children.

The Bailey Bridge Car Park in Aylesford
The Bailey Bridge Car Park in Aylesford

But with the one-hour free parking concession, this would no longer be necessary.

This morning, Laura Bailey who had helped organise “picnic protests” by children from Slade Primary School against the Castle Fields car park extension, had this to say: “What a joy it was to tell the children this morning that their voices had been heard and they helped to receive a just outcome.

“They felt strongly that the green should be protected, they stood up for what they believed in and were listened to.

“It was such happy news for them to wake up to and an important lesson in democracy. We’re planning another picnic to celebrate this marvellous news!”

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