Parking charges are being brought in at a popular out-of-town shopping centre.
From Monday, September 25, shoppers will have to pay to park at Chatham Dockside if they wish to stay for more than one hour.
In a letter to tenants, Chatham Maritime Car Park Ltd said the decision had to be made after more than 200 cars were left overnight by people not using the shops and attractions.
It is believed they are residents living nearby who will now have the option to buy a permit that can only be used outside of trading hours.
A number of free passes will be available to employees in a new staff parking scheme.
For shoppers, the first hour will be free and the company believes most customers only spend an hour shopping so will not be affected by the change.
The cost will be £1.25 for one to two hours, £2.50 for two to three hours, £3.50 for three to four hours and £5 for four to five hours. There’s a charge of £8 for more than five hours and to park overnight will cost £10.
In comparison, the average cost of car parks across Medway is £1.70 for up to two hours and £5.40 for more than six hours - nearly £3 less than at Dockside.
It means those who use the Odeon and one of the many restaurants on the site will have to spend £5 more on their visit.
Chatham Maritime Car Park Ltd has been contacted about methods of payment and how much a parking fine could be.
With nearby Hempstead Valley and Bluewater still offering free parking, shoppers have already said the move would put them off using the centre.
Radhe has lived in Chatham for the last 37 years and explained she’d be less inclined to come to Dockside if she had to pay for parking.
She said: “It’s a bad idea. It will discourage people from coming.”
Her friend, Helen, lives in France but was visiting dockside with Radhe for coffee and a catch-up.
She added: “We chose to come here for coffee today as we know it’s free to park here.
“We probably wouldn’t have if we knew we had to pay for parking. Business will suffer if they start charging for parking.
“My mum only goes shopping in Rainham on a Monday as it’s free parking and she can’t be the only person who shops like that.”
Radhe added: “I don’t know if I’d stop shopping at Dockside altogether but I’d be less inclined to come here if I had to pay for parking.”
John and Diane, from Strood, felt the same.
The couple said: “You have to pay for everything nowadays. Depending on how much they’d charge for parking would be the reason on whether or not I stop coming here.”
In a trading update for the centre in July 2019, CHD Property reported the site shopping centre has an annual footfall of 2.15m, while the nearby Odeon cinema has 400,000 visitors per annum.
The shopping centre opened in 2003 and parking charges were initially brought in but scrapped after public backlash and fears it wouldn't survive.
But now, it has 100% occupancy in the Outlet centre, several restaurants and two gyms.
Anthony Sutton Dockside Centre manager said: ”The overall standards and appearance of the car park will be enhanced and importantly the availability of spaces will be improved for our customers where we have ensured that most of them will still have free parking.”
The owners are investing in improvements, including installing electrical vehicle charging points, relining spaces, providing new walkways, enhancing the landscape and upgrading the lighting.
Last week it was announced that the internationally-renowned restaurant chain, Wagamama is moving in near the discount centre.
The Asian food eatery, based on Japanese cuisine, has taken over a substantial unit opposite the main entrance.
Eleanor Jukes, Schroders Capital UK Real Estate Fund’s portfolio manager, said: “Wagamama and Zizzi are strong additions to Chatham Waterside that will be popular with the local community, drive footfall and complement the existing tenant mix.
“The nature of both the brands is testament to the quality of the scheme and marks the completion of the transformation of Chatham Waterside following the closure of themed attraction Dickens World.”
Marc Ward, Head of Acquisitions at Azzurri Group, owners of Zizzi, added: “We are delighted to obtain representation in Chatham in this important retail and leisure location.
Meanwhile, a vacant space above the shopping centre could be transformed into a massive leisure and fitness area.
Permission had originally been granted for change use to an indoor climbing wall, but it was felt this would be too restrictive and the new application provides a broader remit.
The proposed unit in the Grade II listed former dockyard building would be subdivided and accessed on the first floor.