Council’s U-turn on new parking charges

AN increase in off-street car parking charges looks set to be delayed following concerns about the effect it would have on trade in the district over the Christmas period.

Harrogate Borough Council was expected to implement the changes - which would generate £193,450 in 2011/12 - next month after a 21-day consultation on the proposals ends next Friday, September 2.

But in a new development on Wednesday, Coun Richard Cooper, cabinet member for planning, transport and economic development, said he had asked officers to look at delaying the increase until the new year.

“Having thought about it, because of the economic climate we are in, I’ve asked officers to bring forward new reports to me in September on the situation of parking charges. I don’t want to divert anyone’s attention in business from making the most of the Christmas period.”

He added: “The council has to balance its books so we will have to increase parking charges at some point but I will do all I can to support businesses by delaying until after the Christmas period.”

Coun Cooper said, even if prices did increase, they would leave car parking fees in the Harrogate district competitively priced.

“If you compare Harrogate district with Scarborough or York, we are still good value for money,” he added.

The news has been welcomed by business owners and retailers in Harrogate town centre, who were hoping to stem the increase in car parking charges after North Yorkshire County Council’s executive passed plans on July 26 to increase on-street parking.

From September 1, drivers in the Harrogate district will see a hike in short stay parking charges in the district by 25 per cent, inner zone by 16.6 per cent and outer zone by 20 per cent from September 1. The move will generate more than £280,000 for the county council.

Members of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce and the Town Centre Development Group (TCDG) had expressed concern that the nearly half a million pounds a year generated by the increases in total by both North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council would leave shoppers with less to spend or would deter them from shopping in the town centre altogether.

Speaking on Wednesday, Brian Dunsby, the chamber’s chief executive, welcomed the news of the delay to charges implemented by Harrogate Borough Council, adding: “It’s good news that the cabinet member recognises the difficulties facing traders.”

TCDG members had made individual objections to the council about their plans to increase off-street parking charges, and Mr Dunsby sent written representation to Harrogate Borough Council last Friday on behalf of chamber members.

In it, he said increasing charges would result in shoppers going to “free” car parks in out of town supermarkets, adding that “further increasing car parking charges would decrease the attractiveness of Harrogate at a time when the current economic situation results in many shoppers staying away from our traditional independent retailers that make Harrogate and the market towns unique.”

Dr Neville Collins, the director at Bijouled Ltd and a TCDG member, said: “This increase will be a further deterrent in a time of economic downturn and will result in even less footfall for a town centre already under pressure.”

Another independent retailer, Alison Dewhurst of Shooligans on Cheltenham Parade, voinced her concerns, saying: “As most things can now be purchased from large superstores who mostly offer free parking to shoppers, surely we should be encouraging people to support their local independents in the town centre rather than discouraging them with excessive parking charges.”

The reprieve will also affect car parks in Ripon, Knaresborough and Pateley Bridge.

In Ripon, free parking in the market square was due to end, with drivers facing charges of 50p for 30 minutes, or £1 for one hour. Fees in car parks across the city were also facing an increase, with Marshall Way, Victoria Grove, St Marygate and Arcade car parks all in line for price hikes of 10p an hour.

For more details on what the delay means for Ripon, see today’s Ripon Gazette.

• Anyone wishing to make representations or objections against the parking fee proposals should send them in writing to: The Director of Resources, Harrogate Borough Council, Council Offices, Crescent Gardens, Harrogate, HG1 2SG.