Published: 12:42, 26 January 2022
| Updated: 17:03, 26 January 2022
Beach-goers enjoying an “oasis of freedom” along the Whitstable coast will stay away if controversial parking fees are introduced, critics fear.
The pothole-ridden loose section along Seasalter’s Faversham Road has always been a place to park for free, making it an ideal spot for walkers to avoid the hustle and bustle of the town.
But Canterbury City Council is now poised to use the site as a “cash cow” in an effort to boost its income stream.
It is proposing to introduce a fixed £3 fee for weekends, and £1.50 for weekdays.
The seasonal charges would be in operation between 10am and 4pm, from April to September.
The proposals were put out to public consultation at the end of last year, along with plans to hike parking prices at a number of other locations across the district.
The Seasalter proposal attracted the most criticism, but despite the barrage of objections, councillors are set to approve the fees at a meeting of the regeneration committee tomorrow (Thursday).
If given the green light, the new charges - which would be paid via the RingGo app - would come into force this spring.
Peter Hague, who has run the Waldens of Seasalter caravan park and shop for the past 35 years, says the parking fees would be detrimental to the area.
“It will be absolutely dreadful,” he said.
“We’ve never had to contend with parking prices.
“It’ll have a huge impact on the caravan park, our cafe and most importantly our retail shop, which relies on a good passing trade.
“The past two years have had a major effect on our business and also the cafe, which has a large customer base. It’ll be dreadful and might force us to close; I hope it doesn’t, but it really could.
“Who’s going to want to pay £3 to park to then buy a coffee?
“We’re the only shop for miles. There aren’t many novelty seaside shops around; if we go, there won’t be any left.
“People walk their dogs here, cyclists park their cars, we are part of the Saxon Shore way, our caravan owners have visitors for the day, and our staff park there.”
Following the six-week consultation, 34 people lodged objections against the bid to introduce seasonal fees along the 600-metre stretch.
One regular swimmer wrote: “This little oasis of freedom and relative wilderness that Seasalter represents should not be municipalised.
“Sometimes we just need to get away from aspects of current life such as parking controls. And Seasalter’s unmanaged beach gives back to us a little freedom.”
Another added: “How can you possibly charge to park on that piece of ground which is in such poor condition?”
Others labelled the plan “utterly nonsense”, and raised multiple concerns including fears over the impact on people’s mental health, the use of the RingGo app and the danger of people parking on the other side of the road to avoid the charges.
Council leader Ben Fitter-Harding has, however, defended the plan.
“The taxpayer pays business rates for our car parks and the upkeep, so it is surely fair that someone contributes a parking charge,” he said.
“When going to the beach and having some lunch, you use the public toilets or leave behind litter. So I think it is fair to contribute to the upkeep. It’s fair on the taxpayer that they aren’t paying for all of the cost.
“There is no such thing as free parking.
“We’ve tried to take residents into account with the timings. So dog walkers can still go for free in the mornings and evenings - they’ll still have that time.”
Elsewhere in Whitstable, the hourly rates at Gorrell Tank and Keams Yard car parks are set to rise by 60p over the next two years, hitting £3.10 by 2023/24.
Middle Wall, Shaftesbury Road, Victoria Street and Gladstone Road prices are also to rise, with fees in the summer going up by 40p, and in the winter 10p.
Meanwhile, the all-year rate at Beach Walk, Oyster and Whitstable Harbour will increase from £2.10 to £2.50.
Should councillors agree on the proposals, they will then be voted on again at a policy committee meeting.