Angry residents halt parking rises
A review after plans lasted two weeks
Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk
Huge hikes planned for parking charges in Mid Devon will be reviewed following an angry public backlash.
The changes, announced a fortnight ago to help balance the council’s coffers by £120,000 for the next financial year, would have seen some charges more than double from Tuesday 7 March.
An annual allocated space permit in one of the council’s car parks, for example, was set to rise from £425 to £912.50, while standard hourly tariffs were also set to go up at varying levels.
Defending the increases when they were announced, the council said it was due to government cuts, its “continued recovery” from the pandemic and the “rise in costs of materials.”
A spokesperson added: “We fully understand the need to encourage people to visit and shop in our towns but we feel this rise, which for many will be an 80 pence increase for a two-hour parking period, will allow us to offset some of our rising costs and still allow people to park at a reasonable rate.”
But after several public speakers hit out at the move during a heated full council meeting on Wednesday [22 February], councillors decided to halt the process and review the increases.
Charges are instead now likely to rise in line with inflation. However this will be agreed by councillors at a meeting in the near future.
One of the speakers, Kate Clayton-White, told councillors: “We’ve faced inflation-busting increases in food and energy bills, so the decision to raise car parking charges by eye-watering amounts is very hard to swallow and, for some people, unaffordable.
“We rent an allocated space because we live on a town centre street with limited parking. Our annual rents will be increasing by 115 per cent – from £425 to £912.50. We cannot identify the meetings where this increase was discussed and who agreed it.”
She slammed the council’s communication on the issue as “dire,” adding: “We only found out through a chance conversation with a neighbour.
“The council uses email to remind us that fees are due, yet can’t seem to use the same simple system to inform us of the increases. We suspect there will be many people who do not even know.
“Last week’s press release stated that ‘material costs have escalated.’ Our car-sized piece of tarmac is not swept or tended in any other way by council employees.
“We cannot see how the ‘higher material costs’ could possibly lead to this huge increase which will, by the way, generate an extra £28,000 per year from 51 spaces.”
Ms Clayton-White claimed the council is using motorists as a “cash cow” whose “secretive decisions would seem fit to propel them head-long into the Rotten Boroughs section of a future edition of Private Eye.”
Jo Webber, the owner of long-running Tiverton store Jo Amor, also criticised the rises, telling councillors: “Is Mid Devon totally unaware that the UK is going through a cost-of-living crisis? A car park is the first port of call for any tourist or new shoppers to Tiverton. What sort of welcome is that?
“Our local population, that have stood by our local independents to shop local through these past covid years. What sort of thank you is that?
“The local businesses owned and employing local people will risk reduced footfall due to the higher cost of parking. This will have a domino effect and Mid Devon will have more empty units. Is that your plan?”
Ms Webber asked the council if it had consulted with businesses and residents, adding: “Mid Devon, have you realised everyone who lives and works in and around Tiverton will be effected by this outrageous proposal?”
Business owner Sophia Beard, speaking as a representative of the Tiverton Town Centre partnership, continued along the same lines. “Having had many, many, many conversations with people – both residents, business owners, members of the town council – over the past week, there is no way for me to impress upon you the strength of feeling that there has been since this news arrived – all to the negative.”
She slammed the lack of a consultation and notice period for those affected and questioned the “scattergun” approach to the increases – as some fees had planned to go up by more than others.
“If your budget needs to be balanced then that is something that you need to look at. But I tell you what – we are not the ones that are going to pay for it in this way.”
Ms Beard added: “Every single time someone from any surrounding villages gets in their car they have a choice. They have a choice whether they come into our town centre and support our local businesses, or whether they head off to Taunton … or Exeter … or anywhere else.
“The fight that we have, ladies and gentleman, is to keep them here in town. Your proposal with these increase in charges is so disgustingly, disproportionately, arrogantly, counter-productive and counter-intuitive to that aim, that we really need you to listen.”
She said a petition, containing 1,000 signatures collected in less than a week, would be presented to councillors at the meeting.
After hearing residents’ concerns, later in the meeting Cllr Richard Chesterton (Conservative, Lowe Culm) asked for officers to stop the planned parking increases.
Councillor John Downes (Lib Dem, Boniface), chair of the council’s economy policy development group, agreed. He also reminded his colleagues that his group had recommended parking fees rise in line with inflation – and suggested that would guide a review.
Members agreed to halt the planned increases subject to the review, meaning much of the expected £120,000 additional income for the budget could now have to be found elsewhere.