A plan to introduce parking charges at a seafront car park will “put people off” from using it.
That’s the warning after it emerged that the Little Oysters parking area at The Leas, in Minster, on Sheppey, is to become a pay and display.
The proposed fees have been labelled “extortionate” but Swale council says it needs to find “additional savings, efficiencies and revenue” to balance its books.
Free parking at Queenborough Library and Park Road car parks, both in Queenborough, could also be scrapped.
Under the plans, an hour’s stay between 7am and 7pm would cost £1.40, with two hours costing £2.80.
It would be £5.60 for up to four hours and any longer than that would be £7.10.
From 7pm to 7am there would be a £3 fixed charge per stay.
These rates match the planned hikes for the rest of the borough’s car parks set out in a public consultation last October which ran until Friday, January 2.
Mental health nurse Karen Paine, who lives on the Island and uses Little Oysters car park twice a week, has called the new charges “extortionate”.
The 63-year-old has set a social media group called “Against Parking Charges at Little Oysters” and says she will park on the street to avoid the charges.
She added: “I would like the car park to remain free but if they have to put in charges why not charge a couple of quid rather than £7?
“People are going to be discouraged from coming down to what is a beautiful beach.
“There are a lot of groups that use this busy car park like the parkrunners, fishermen and the Sheppey Bluetits swimming group.
“It just means they will all have to pay extra for something that they were doing for free.”
Sheerness Town Team chairman, Phil Crowder, who litter picks on The Leas, says while he sees why the council is doing it he thinks the charges will “put people off”.
The 63-year-old says the council needs to “strike the correct balance” between making money and encouraging people to use the beaches.
“A lot of local people from other parts of the Island go to The Leas because of how nice it is,” he said. “And in the summer it’s very popular with holidaymakers, so it is well used.
“When something has been free for so long you’re going to upset people. It will put people off who will find ways around it by parking on the street - it’s just human nature.
“That’s what we have seen in Sheerness with the night-time charges. We have had people not turn up to our meetings because of the charges.
“The litter pickers [at The Leas] are going to have to pay at least £5.60, as the picks take over two hours, to voluntarily clean a beach for the community.
“However, the council does need to raise money somehow to pay for the upkeep of the car park alone. But it needs to be careful to not overcharge as people won’t use it and they’ll make no money.”
Cllr Peter MacDonald (Swale Ind), who represents Minster Cliffs on Swale council, says the council needs to begin charging people to pay for the maintenance of the car parks.
He said: “Realistically the car parks can’t be free and originally you had to pay to park there.
“While Swale council isn’t broke like a lot of other authorities it needs to be careful and not waste money.
“People will go to go park on the limited street space which could cause problems.”
A council spokesman said parking fees were an “important source of revenue” which can help fund services.
Swale was the only authority in Kent to lose money on its car parking operations between 2017 and 2022, recording a £220,702 deficit.
“Our parking charges are essential to helping us tackle the budget gap we are facing...”
The spokesman said: “It is no secret that, like many councils, we are facing financial difficulties.
“The cost-of-living crisis has increased service delivery costs while funding from the government is reducing in real terms.
“In order to balance our books, we need to find additional savings, efficiencies and revenue.
“Councils can introduce fees to help fund council services, and parking is an important source of revenue for us.
“Our parking charges are essential to helping us tackle the budget gap we are facing.”
People can comment on the plans by sending a letter to: Swale council parking services manager, Swale House, East Street, Sittingbourne by midday on Monday, February 26.