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Whitstable parking charges to rise by up to £2.10 an hour as Canterbury City Council unveils ‘crazy’ proposals

Parking charges in Whitstable are set to rise by up to £2.10 an hour as the council looks to “cash in” on the popularity of the seaside town.

Motorists using the coastal hotspot’s busiest car parks currently pay an hourly rate as low as £1.60 - but this will soar to £3.70 under the controversial proposals.

The council has been accused of cashing in on the popularity of Whitstable
The council has been accused of cashing in on the popularity of Whitstable

The new tariffs would make Whitstable the priciest place to park on the Kent coast - and among the most expensive in the UK.

But in a double blow for the town, Canterbury City Council (CCC) also wants to scrap a free midweek parking offer enjoyed by school-run parents, along with a similar scheme supporting the evening economy in neighbouring Herne Bay.

The plans - unveiled by the new Labour-Lib Dem coalition - have been branded "crazy" by opponents who fear the impact on residents and local traders.

Conservative opposition leader Rachel Carnac said: “It appears this council is cashing in on people enjoying our coastline and spending money in Herne Bay and Whitstable - whether they are locals or visitors.

“The rises are detrimental for businesses trying to recover after the pandemic and now through the cost-of-living crisis.

“We will fight these increases and will back our coastal communities, which need support.”

Opposition leader Rachel Carnac (Con) has branded the parking proposals “crazy”
Opposition leader Rachel Carnac (Con) has branded the parking proposals “crazy”

The proposals have been unveiled as part of a new draft budget and are set to generate more than £1 million in extra revenue.

Previously only Canterbury’s car parks were split into bands that dictated the tariffs charged, but to “make it easier” for motorists it is proposed sites in Herne Bay and Whitstable are included.

The number of car parks in Band One - the priciest - would increase from two to nine, with the council proposing an hourly rate of £3.70 for them all.

For Canterbury’s two busiest sites - Watling Street and Queningate - this represents only a 20p rise, but for the other seven the hike is between £1.20 and £2.10 an hour.

Five of them are in Whitstable, with the largest increases proposed at the town’s biggest car park, Gorrell Tank, and nearby Keams Yard, which currently cost £3.10 an hour between April and September and £1.60 the rest of the year.

The council wants to ditch seasonal tariffs, which are seen as a tourist tax on summer visitors, leaving residents facing an all-year-round rate of £3.70

It would mean motorists enjoying a three-hour stay today for £4.80 having to instead fork out £11.10 - a rise of 130%.

Papers show the increases at these two Whitstable sites alone would generate an additional £410,000.

Mehmet Dari, who runs restaurants in Herne Bay and Whitstable, fears increased parking charges will impact traders and lead to more empty shops
Mehmet Dari, who runs restaurants in Herne Bay and Whitstable, fears increased parking charges will impact traders and lead to more empty shops

Resident Gerry Skinner wrote on Facebook: “I parked in the centre of Windsor four weeks ago for six hours and it cost me £12.50 – under this scheme in the Gorrell Tank it’s costing £22.20.

“I’ve yet in my travels outside London to find anywhere dearer than the CCC area.”

Another, Di Williams, added: “Pretty shocking. I maybe could understand it if we had a Park & Ride. It’s not good news for shopkeepers and restaurants.”

Mehmet Dari runs restaurants in both Whitstable town centre and on Herne Bay seafront, which will also see charges rise by as much as £1.20 an hour.

“If customers are going to stay with us for three hours, parking will be more than £10, plus the meal,” he said of the proposed Whitstable charges.

“It will affect the business and you will see more empty shops in the high street, which is already struggling.

“We have a lot of local people in the Herne Bay restaurant rather than a lot of tourists, so it is going to affect us and them.

“When there are empty shops, that will impact the council as it will not be able to get business rates.”

Free evening parking in William Street car park in Herne Bay could soon be scrapped
Free evening parking in William Street car park in Herne Bay could soon be scrapped

CCC’s income from parking is already close to three times more than the next local authority in Kent – with almost £45 million collected between 2017 and 2022.

And the proposed charges in Whitstable are higher than any other coastal town in the county, with only Ramsgate – at £3.30 – currently having an hourly rate above £3.

In comparison, parking in Deal is only £1.10 an hour out of season, and £1.60 in the summer.

The new fees would also propel Whitstable close to the top of the priciest coastal spots for parking in the UK, with eight hours at the beach costing £29.60 – just shy of the £35 charged in Newquay and Brighton.

But to further hit drivers in the pocket, CCC is proposing to end free midweek parking between 8.30am and 10am in Whitstable, and from 6pm to 9pm in Herne Bay’s biggest car park, William Street.

Former Conservative Whitstable councillor Ashley Clark, who lost his seat on the toss of a coin in May, said: “The free period of 8.30am to 10am was initiated to facilitate the school run, cut congestion with drop-offs in Oxford Street and to encourage local trade.

“It was supported by all local councillors and it would appear the new leadership wants to throw all that under the bus, but there you are. The people voted these in to exercise good judgement. Enjoy!”

Cllr Carnac says night-time trade in Herne Bay will suffer from the loss of free parking.

“It benefits the evening economy, including users of the leisure centre and cinema, and local residents, giving them free off-street parking overnight,” she said.

“That decision obviously concerns me about the impact on Herne Bay's economy and attracting people to the town centre and supporting the evening economy.”

A three-hour stay in the Reculver Towers car park could soon cost £8.10 all year round
A three-hour stay in the Reculver Towers car park could soon cost £8.10 all year round

Cllr Carnac also pointed to proposed increases at Herne Bay’s busiest seafront car park - Neptune - and at Reculver Towers, which have both been allocated the Band Two price of £2.70 an hour.

The loss of seasonal tariffs would see charges at the sites rise from the respective £1.50 and £1.60 hourly rates currently in place between October and March.

Cllr Carnac said: “There have already been lots of complaints about the cost of parking at Reculver. Now it will be so expensive - £8.10 for three hours and no seasonal reduction!

“That's a lot for a local OAP who wants to take their dog for a walk or a family who wants to use the play area.

“It will deter people from spending time there and is bad for the local economy at a time when it had just started to take off. It looks greedy. And before anyone asks, there isn't a bus service to Reculver. It was cut last year!”

While the council forecasts a surplus of almost £1.05m from the changes, it is proposed that £232,540 of this is spent on reopening the mothballed Sturry Road park and ride.

The site was closed by the Conservatives last July because of “chronically low usage”, with the service previously being subsidised by the council at more than £44,000 a month.

Of the more than £1 million raised through the parking changes, Cllr Carnac said: “I can't see where this income is then being spent on the coastal towns or rural areas - there's nothing in the budget.

“And are these increases being made to subsidise the reopening of Sturry Road Park and Ride? Is that the reason? Are our coastal communities paying the price?

“This budget is styled as having residents, business and the environment at its heart.

“Yes, if you live in Canterbury. But if you live in Whitstable, Herne Bay or the villages then you are definitely not at the heart of this budget - the increases in parking charges alone show that.

“They say it's a simpler system, but who for? The council? Not for residents or visitors.

“At a time when we should be supporting the economies in Whitstable and Herne Bay, I see this as very regressive.”

The draft budget does propose a 10% discount for Canterbury district residents, but all Band One car parks are excluded from the scheme.

The offer would also only apply to the remaining sites with ANPR technology - to allow for online administration - leaving just 10 of the district’s 42 car parks eligible.

Only one of those is in Whitstable, and two in Herne Bay.

It is proposed, however, to offer local residents an 80p discount on the daily £4 park and ride charge.

There is also good news for disabled motorists, as the council wants to restore three hours of free parking for blue badge holders.

The previous administration cut the limit to two hours in 2021.

Cllr Alex Ricketts – the cabinet member for tourism, movement and rural development – has defended the budget proposals
Cllr Alex Ricketts – the cabinet member for tourism, movement and rural development – has defended the budget proposals

On the parking proposals, the council’s cabinet member for tourism, movement and rural development, Cllr Alex Ricketts (Lib Dem), said: “In an ideal world we wouldn’t raise prices at all, but even though that isn’t possible we are proposing a set of measures that seeks to provide fairer parking for our residents.

“Both the residents’ rate and the organising of car parks into bands make it easier for people to understand the best places to park for cost and convenience, and limit the environmental impact of their visit, while also bringing in income that protects important council services.”

Cllr Ricketts says that for some car parks in Whitstable charges will be “potentially lower”, highlighting three sites in Band Three where it will be 60p an hour cheaper to park in the summer, but cost 30p more out of season.

He describes the current seasonal tariff as a “burden on residents in the summer months” – at the same time as supporting proposals that would see local motorists charged higher fees all year round than the current summer rate in the majority of Whitstable car parks.

Responding to criticism of the residents’ discount applying only to a quarter of the district’s car parks, and seemingly overlooking the fact all Band One sites are excluded from the scheme, he said: “We would like to extend the residents’ rate, but this means increasing ANPR coverage, or Ringo allowing us to apply the rate in their car parks, which they are currently unable to do.

“It is definitely something we hope to expand in the future, and this consultation is a first step.”

Cllr Rickets also says axing free morning parking in Whitstable would encourage more school-run parents to walk, cycle or catch the bus, while adding there is “no evidence” Herne Bay’s evening offer encourages extra journeys.

The cost of parking in Keams Yard car park, off Whitstable beach, could rise to £3.70 an hour – up from £1.60 between October and March
The cost of parking in Keams Yard car park, off Whitstable beach, could rise to £3.70 an hour – up from £1.60 between October and March

He says his administration is pleased to be proposing the reopening of Sturry Road park and ride and increasing free parking hours for disabled drivers, as these were election pledges by the coalition parties.

“Reopening Sturry Road Park and Ride is part of a wider policy to encourage a change in behaviour across the district," he said.

“Although there will be an initial cost to reopen it, a clear strategy of encouraging visitors to park and ride away from city centre car parks should help to make it a much more sustainable alternative.”

Away from parking, the draft budget proposes bringing back Canterbury’s historic market and investing £150,000 in new play park equipment.

The council also wants to put £500,000 aside to tackle climate change and biodiversity emergencies.

To help fund the proposals it wants to increase its share of council tax bills by 3% - the maximum allowed by the government without holding a referendum.

It would represent an extra 13p a week for an average Band D household.

The council also wants to dip into its reserves to “pay for one-off costs in order to smooth out financial bumps in the road”.

Supporters led a campaign to save Canterbury Market, which could soon return
Supporters led a campaign to save Canterbury Market, which could soon return

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Mike Sole said: “Like every household in the country, the council is fighting to overcome huge challenges to its financial position – a post-pandemic hangover, rising prices and increasing interest rates which means it costs more to borrow.

“On top of that, at this stage in the process, we have no idea how much money we will get from central government for the next financial year at the same time as demand for our services increases because of how tough life is for everyone at the moment.

“All of this means I am delighted we are proposing to consult on a draft budget that is designed to deliver on the manifestos of the Labour and Lib Dem coalition and show we care about our residents, the environment and business.

“We have been in listening mode before the election in May and since we took office and we hope our proposals reflect that.

“We’re keen to hear everyone’s views if permission to consult is granted by the Cabinet, especially residents whose money we spend through the council tax system and who elected us to improve their day-to-day lives.

“Who knows, there might be a fantastic idea out there to save money or increase our income that we’ve not thought of.”

The Cabinet will meet to discuss the draft budget on Monday at the Guildhall in St Peter’s Street, Canterbury, at 7pm.

If given the green light, the consultation will run from Monday, November 13, to Monday, January 8.

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