Controversial plans to introduce new parking charges in Harrogate, branded a “stealth tax” by furious campaigners, have been approved after a year of fierce debate.
North Yorkshire County Council today gave the go-ahead for the introduction of on-street pay and display parking charges in the town on Sundays between 10am and 6pm.
The charges will be in force from October 1 this year but, as expected, a proposal to introduce evening charges on weekdays has been shelved for the time being.
The council announced plans last May to bring in Sunday charges, a move which sparked a huge public backlash.
Thousands of concerned residents and businesses signed petitions urging the plans to be scrapped and to introduce free disc parking on Sundays instead.
However, at an Executive meeting today, Coun Don Mackenzie insisted that the charges were necessary to encourage visitors to use off-street cap parks and a turnover of premium on-street parking spaces.
Coun Mackenzie, executive member for Highways, said: "I realise some people believe these charges will have a detrimental impact on Harrogate, but I am not aware of any conclusive evidence that reasonable parking charges have a negative impact on town centre economies.
"I believe introducing charges and encouraging more rapid turnover or premium parking spaces on-street on Sundays will be good for businesses, because at the moment on Sundays those streets are fully parked up, people have no incentive to move on and many people are simply parking for convenience and are not going into shops, restaurants or pubs to support our economy.”
A ten-week consultation on Sunday and evening charges was held between July and September last year with an overwhelming 713 respondents opposing the plans and just 48 in favour.
Only 10 of these respondents were businesses who agreed with the Sunday charges proposals while the remaining 101 said that they were against their introduction.
Councillors rejected both proposals at a Harrogate District County Area Committee meeting in November, and the plans were postponed pending a parking review.
The review revealed new evidence showing that on Sunday occupancy of the on-street spaces is "very high" with vehicles staying longer than the Monday to Saturday maximum stay period.
Off-street car parks were also showed to have capacity to accommodate more vehicles throughout the day with the county council arguing a "balance" between on and off-street charging needed to be achieved.
However, many residents and businesses have raised concerns that the charges would deter shoppers visiting the town centre with thousands backing a petition to scrap the proposals.
County councillor and Harrogate resident David Simister has continuously opposed plans to introduce the charges, branding them a "tax on motorists".
Despite his criticism of the proposals, the UKIP councillor admitted that the vote came as "no suprise whatsoever".
He said: "The county council has always wanted to introduce Sunday parking charges and it's all about revenue generation.
"By doing a consultation they just gone through the motions. I don't believe they had any intention to do anything other than introduce Sunday parking charges.
"They say it's about getting people to park off street but if the car parks are so expensive then nobody is going to use them.
"Visitors and residents are being punished for coming to Harrogate. The high street is under massive competition and this will not help them."
Despite losing the battle, Coun Simister warned that Harrogate would have to soon prepare itself to fight off evening parking charges.
Harrogate businessman Mike Pywell launched both the petitions to scrap the proposal and the petition in favour of introducing free disc parking in the town centre.
Thousands of businesses and residents threw their weight behind both petitions and Mr Pywell criticised the county council for not listening to their views.
He said: "We have been completely ignored. No consideration at all has been given to a creative solution and they are so removed from the concerns and the points made by Harrogate residents.
"It's very disappointing. We all knew there was an issue with Sunday parking but the better control would have been free disc parking.
"However, had we not launched any petition then we would have been facing evening parking charges as well as Sunday charges.
"They now need to be more creative about helping people and encouraging them to come into Harrogate on a Sunday."