TOWN centre traders say they are angry that they did not have any say ahead of the inflation-busting increase in the cost of parking on meters in Stratford town centre.
Warwickshire County Council (WCC) will put prices up by ten per cent – three times the rate of inflation – from next week.
But the Herald has been told that none of the BID organisations set up to manage and represent traders in town centres around the county, nor other business organisations, such as the Federation of Small Businesses, were aware of the looming rise.
It is also unclear whether district and borough councils were contacted in advance of the decision being made back in October.
Joseph Bacconet, director of Stratforward BID, said: “It would have been prudent for WCC to officially inform business organisations of their intentions to increase costs, which has an impact on our member businesses, and their visitors and shoppers.
“Parking is a hugely sensitive issue for business and shoppers, and we would have hoped merited some discussion.”
The price hike comes despite figures obtained by the Herald that show rising profits from on-street parking income over the past two years.
The council reported a surplus of £1.7million profit during 2016/17 – up more than £100,000 on the previous financial year.
That is largely as a result of the day-to-day management being contracted out to private company NSL, a move to help £500,000 a year on running costs.
But our figures also show that over the past year there has been a fall in the number of fines issued across Stratford and the rest if the county, and a rising number of successful appeals.
The county council is facing huge cuts to its spending amid a drop in government funding, and increasing parking meter charges as one of the ways of mitigating that was included in the council’s budget for the current financial year, which was set in February.
The rise – revealed in a decision noticed published on the county council’s website – will mean from next Monday, 9th January, tickets will increase by between 5p for 30 minutes and 20p to £2.20 for two hours.
The new charges are 55p for 30 minutes, up from 50p, £1.10 for an hour, up from £1, £.165 for an hour and a half, up from £1.50, and £2.10 for two hours, up from £2.
Mr Bacconet said while the price rises were small in monetary terms and consistent with council’s transport policy, the reality of a ten per cent increase was not ‘sensible’. He also questioned the current maximum stay of two hours.
He added: “I would have wanted an informed debate with WCC about whether the current length of parking restrictions on-street is correct before they did this, it makes it less likely that changes in potential length of stay will occur before 2019.
“WCC say that any surplus is reinvested in transport initiatives, which is fine, and the transport strategy is in development, but it will be some time before Stratford sees the results of any integration, and the current sustainable transport initiative (the park and ride) is simply too expensive.
“We are aware of, and sympathetic to, the financial pressures that local authorities are under and this looks like a decision that is financially-led, followed closely by transport concerns. I’m afraid the economic health of the town centre looks to be a distant consideration.”
Charges for parking on some streets in Stratford were introduced in 2004, with ticket prices at their current level since 2007.
They were rolled out across the county and individual borough and district councils were responsible for enforcement in their towns, until November 2014 when NSL took over running the service countywide.
The county council said since then the cost of enforcement and maintenance has been the same across the county, but the pricing structure is different from town to town, meaning charges had to be brought into line.
A Warwickshire County Council spokesperson said: “This is the first such increase introduced on any street in Warwickshire since 2013 and in some street streets the charge for a one hour stay has remained the same since 2006.
“The increase will encourage drivers to use district or borough council controlled off-street parking spaces ahead of on-street spaces, which helps traffic flows around towns.
“When deciding on rate increases a number of factors were considered, including the price relative to off street parking charges, what payments that can be made with tendered denominations of legal tender and the ability to offer drivers flexible tariffs which allow parking commensurate to the amount of change they have available.
“These proposed increases mean on-street parking charges will become more uniform across Warwickshire and remain competitively priced when compared with many other areas.”
The spokesperson added: “The £500,000 saving delivered by the Civil Parking Enforcement contract is an annual figure. Warwickshire County Council is very pleased with the performance of NSL in delivery of the contract to date.
“The expiry of the initial term of the contract is in November 2019 with options for extension. Negotiations regarding the possibility of extending the contract will begin early in 2018.”