Councillors back charging for car parks

PLANS to introduce car park charging in Ely were officially given the green-light by councillors this week, despite widespread public opposition.

After months of campaigning and negotiation by groups opposed to the plans, councillors on the Development and Transport Committee voted on Tuesday to press ahead with a charging scheme, which could be introduced as early as July next year.

The plans will now go out for a 12-week consultation, where the public will be given one of the last chances to comment on the plans before the scheme could be launched

According to projections compiled by council officers, the authority will net a �43,000 annual surplus from parking charges, though officers, including council chief executive John Hill, denied the scheme was being introduced purely to generate revenue.

Councillor Peter Moakes, leader of the ruling Conservative group, said: “The thousands of people who added their names to the petition against parking charges did so for a reason and our job has been to try and find a balance between their wishes and the ability of the council to pay for and deliver services to the whole of the district.

“This has led us to develop the idea of keeping on street car parking free, creating a flat �1 per day pay and display ticket and introducing a �20 pre pay year long parking permit. This to us seems to be the fairest way of ensuring everyone and especially the low paid workers in the district can access our car parks for as little as 8p per working day.”

Head of community services at the council, Daren Dixon, told councillors that, if approved, 18 new pay and display meters would be introduced in the city’s five car parks, with the cost of starting the charging scheme coming in at “no more” than �100,000.

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About 10 per cent of people currently using the car parks would be displaced onto the streets around the city after a charge was introduced, Mr Dixon added.

Speaking at the meeting on Tuesday, Cllr Allen Alderson, who represents The Swaffhams, added: “I would walk bare feet over sharpened nails to be able to park for eight pence per day. In all reality we are looking at the cost of one cigarette.”

The Ely Traders Association has opposed plans to introduce a charge for parking since they were first mooted after the General Election, and compiled 12,000 signature petition against the proposals.

A public meeting was also held along with several meetings with councillors, in a bid to scrap the plans.

Liberal Democrat leader Ian Allen, who voted against the plans along with fellow Lib Dem Sheila Friend-Smith, said: “Clearly this is about generating income for the council and neutralising the car parking budget as well as possibly filling a black hole in the council’s budget.”

The proposals:

* A �20 pre pay year long parking permit

* A flat �1 per day pay and display car parking ticket for those who do not have a parking permit

* The retention of free on street car parking in Ely

* The introduction of a six month pre-pay permit available at a cost of �12

* Asking officers at the district council to work in partnership with Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Cambridgeshire County Council to improve on and off street parking enforcement instead of introducing Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE)

* Finding additional on-street car parking spaces but excluding the Market Place