A final decision on whether to introduce Sunday and evening on-street parking charges in Harrogate has been delayed.
A report recommending whether the controversial proposals should be taken forward was expected to be made public this week ahead of a decision on February 2. But when it failed to appear on the agenda for North Yorkshire County Council’s executive committee, it emerged the authority had decided to delay the decision.
County Coun Don Mackenzie (Con, Saltergate), North Yorkshire’s executive member for Highways, told the Advertiser: “We already have a very full agenda for February 2, including a decision on approving the latest Local Transport Plan, which is a very significant document that we need to go through carefully before approving.
“As far as the report on the proposal to introduce on-street parking charges on Sundays and evenings is concerned, it was felt by our legal team that we should give plenty of time between the publication of the report and the meeting to ensure any further comments can be made in good time by members of the public.
“We are aware of the importance of this decision, which is not something we wish to rush. We need to get it right and we will deal with the Harrogate parking decision when the time is right.”
The county council’s proposals include introducing parking charges on Sundays and extending charges from 6pm to 7pm on evenings.
However, the Advertiser understands the authority is likely to shelve its plans to bring in the evening charges.
Coun Mackenzie, who believes charging for parking on Sundays will help free spaces in the town centre by encouraging people to park in long- stay off-street car parks, said: “I feel the case for for Sunday is stronger than the evening one simply because there’s plenty of off-street provision on Sunday during the day. On an evening two of the three multi-storey carparks close. That is my own personal view and we will see what my executive colleagues say.”
The authority has stressed that the charges were about “better management” of spaces and not about raising revenue.
However, the plans have come under intense criticism, with thousands of people objecting to the proposals since they were first mooted in May.
Harrogate businessman Mike Pywell, who launched a petition against the proposals which has attracted more than 2,500 signatures, said introducing charges on a Sunday would be “the nail in the coffin for Harrogate town centre”.
He said: “I would be delighted if they propose not to introduce evening charges, but I’m still shocked by the fact they appear to have not taken any notice at all of of the concerns of the Harrogate community that there should not be Sunday charges.
“Sunday is the second busiest day of the week and they want to charge for parking?
“I just think they live in a box as it’s just going to encourage people to go to out of town shopping centres where they can park for free. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think charging is not going to make any difference.”
Rev John Campbell, from West Park United Reform Church, said the church’s fellowship was deeply concerned about the proposed implementation of parking charges on Sundays.
He said: “We are told ‘It is not about raising revenue’ yet that is precisely what will take place.
“It is a blatant way of showing how fast we are moving away from a culture of tolerant ‘give-and-take’ and hurtling into a culture based solely upon financial return.”
In November the Harrogate Area Committee called for a review into the plans, which have already been tweaked following a major public backlash.
After crunch talks with members and officers from Harrogate Borough Council and the county council, officers carried out parking surveys in the James Street area over two Sundays this month.
However, Mr Pywell is not satisfied that the review is being carried out correctly.
He said: “We were promised a full review and everybody around that table, including Richard Cooper, said they believed it was important this was done. How could they possibly have completed a full review if no member of the business community was actually contacted?”
In response to Mr Pywell’s comments, Coun Mackenzie said: “The review was never going to be that. We have had a consultation and that took place over the summer months and it was as a result of that consultation that it came to the area committee in November.
“The area committee did request a review and we are already some way down the line in having that.”
Coun Mackenzie reiterated that the charges were not a money making exercise and were “above all” about traffic management.
“We can’t introduce any scheme that is going to cost the taxpayer money,” he said.
However, Mr Pywell believes the authority has made up its mind and is likely to push the charges through, causing “uproar in Harrogate”.
He said: “They say this will help businesses but I haven’t found a single person in Harrogate who owns a business who would say charges on Sunday or evening is a good thing.
“The county council says it’s not about the money but it obviously is and I think it’s completely and utterly wrong,” he said.
“I await with baited breath for this report. When we have a date for the executive committee, I appeal to the people of Harrogate to come together and speak out over whether the action they have proposed is fair. And if not I personally, and many other people, will do everything we can to make sure the county council is taken to task.”
Coun Mackenzie expects a report recommending the proposals will go before the committee within the next month.