Chairman of LB First and Leighton-Linslade Town Councillor voice concerns over potential parking fee increase

'This is not a level playing field for our business community'

Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 1:08 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 1:10 pm

The chairman of LB First and a Leighton-Linslade Town Councillor have spoken out against Central Beds Council's proposal to increase its car parking fees.

A consultation was launched yesterday (August 23) as CBC is looking to increase some town centre parking charges, most of which would rise by 50p, and is seeking the views of residents and businesses. It comes just weeks after the town council had agreed to ask CBC to support a free parking trial.

However, chairman of LB First, Gennaro Borrelli, described the news as "extremely disappointing" while Leighton-Linslade Town Councillor and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Russ Goodchild, agreed that the initiative had come at "at the wrong time" as businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Leighton Buzzard High Street. Photo: Jane Russell.

Mr Borrelli, told the LBO: "It was extremely disappointing to hear that Central Beds Council are proposing to increase parking charges.

"LB First has been calling for a proper parking strategy similar to other towns for some time, backed up by the Federation Of Small Businesses reports, such as free one hour parking or 'Free From 3pm'.

"This is why we supported the town council asking for a three-month free parking trial with the view of taking over the running of our town centre car parks on a permanent basis.

"The facts are that the car parks in the southern part of Central Beds are run by CBC whereas in the northern part of central beds most of the car parks are under the respective town and parish councils, therefore whenever CBC puts up the parking charges it predominantly impacts the residents, customers and businesses of Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable.

"This is not a level playing field for our business community and it cannot be right that there is this disparity between the northern and southern areas of the same local authority; for example the money raised from increased charges is not ring-fenced for our town, it goes into CBC's coffers which is used across Central Bedfordshire meaning we subsidise other areas.

"The comments made in the recent LBO article by Cllr Wenham and Cllr Baker implying that Leighton Buzzard High Street had been 'lavished' with money and having had '£110,000 spent on its pedestrianisation' is a distortion of the facts.

"The money came from central government for Covid safety measures and Welcome Back measures, but unfortunately due to the poor implementation of the barriers over half of that money was used to pay Ringway Jacobs staff along with signage and cones to man the barriers.

"The consultation has to look at all options and has to be open and transparent so that all stakeholders including the business community is fully engaged with at this most important and difficult of times."

Cllr Goodchild told the newspaper: "This decision by CBC has come at the wrong time whilst High Street businesses struggle to recover from the effects of the pandemic and rebuild the day and night time economies. One also wonders whether it could also be a cynical ploy by CBC to put up barriers in the way of the town council’s request for discussions on free parking and eventual transfer of control of town centre car parks.

"I note that CBC Cllrs John Baker and Richard Wenham wax gloriously about the ‘generous’ spending of over £100k on the pedestrianisation of our High Street which they have presumably forgotten was foisted upon us under a temporary traffic order. I am puzzled as to what this money has been spent on as the proposed canopy over the seating circle has not materialised nor indeed have any other improvements. It is also a fact that bus users displaced as a consequence of this experiment have been protected from the elements thanks to LibDem councillors proposing these were purchased and installed with town council funds as CBC had no money!"

He added: "In addition, I note the extraordinary comment from Cllr Wenham, Conservative Leader of CBC, apparently criticising LibDems for encouraging more use of cars into town and not helping reach a carbon net zero which I believe his government has set for 2050. LibDems are all for a green economy, but we are trying to encourage people into the town. Having said that, even electric cars have to park somewhere and LibDems would push to ensure that plentiful charging points were installed in all the car parks.

"Cllr Wenham also states that proceeds from parking are re-invested, does that mean in the provision of Health Hubs in Biggleswade and Dunstable, both towns of which are already served by hospitals whilst Leighton-Linslade remains the largest town in the UK without a minor accident facility.

"Finally, Conservative CBC Cllr Ian Delgarno, the provider of all things for Leighton Buzzard Town Centre, makes the bold statement that CBC has provided a substantial amount of money to the town council to provide benches and other improvements to the High Street but forgets to say it is not CBC money that is being given. It is in fact money held in a residual European Union fund that CBC are tasked with distributing to town and parish councils who bid for it."

A Central Bedfordshire Council spokeswoman said: “We understand residents and businesses will be concerned about increases to car parking charges and the potential impact on businesses and the vibrancy of local town centres. The economic success of a local area cannot only be attributed to the cost of car parking. Other issues such as availability of public transport, level of car ownership in the local population, changes in shopping behaviour are also important factors.

“Although we are proposing to increase some public car parking charges, mostly by 50 pence, we are not proposing to increase charges for market traders, business or employee permits. We also offer an afternoon of free parking in Duncombe Drive car park in Leighton Buzzard which is not changing.

“The consultation is now live on our website, www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/consultations. Paper copies of the consultation summary document and questionnaire can be requested by emailing [email protected] or calling 0300 300 8301.”