Councillors clash over late parking charges amendment for Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard in heated debate

Duncombe Drive car park (Picture: Tony Margiocchi)Duncombe Drive car park (Picture: Tony Margiocchi)
Duncombe Drive car park (Picture: Tony Margiocchi)
The £1.50 rate for an hour’s parking will be cut to £1 and 50p charge for a half hour scrapped

Towns and residents “are being failed” and retailers “let down” by Central Bedfordshire Council’s failure to provide an hour’s free parking in Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard, a meeting heard.

But the council's executive member for finance and Independent Apsley and Woburn councillor John Baker said the changes were designed to encourage people to stay longer – adding the parking income was important to support buses and car park repairs in the towns.

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The eleventh hour amendment over parking charges was proposed to a full CBC meeting by councillor Baker, who proposed reducing the £1.50 for an hour’s parking to £1 and abolishing the 50p charge for half an hour.

He said: “I want to encourage people to stay longer. I want to reduce the two-hour rate to £1.80. We can freeze the five-hour rate at £4, and pay for all this by increasing the day rate to £8 from £7 and by scrapping the week rate of £17.50.

“Those top end changes tilt the balance to those wanting to visit our town centres and stay longer. We’d introduce these new charges on January 1st.

“Parking income is important to support bus subsidies, traffic wardens and car park repairs.”

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Independent Leighton Linslade West councillor Steve Owen suggested: “The amendment eliminates the crash and dash of half an hour parking, provides reductions in the two most used bands, freezes the rates for the next two charging bands and offers a positive incentive for shoppers.”

But Independent Leighton Linslade West councillor Victoria Harvey branded it “a muddle”, warning: “We’ve a huge economic crisis and shop owners trying to keep their premises and town centres open, and we’re fighting like schoolchildren over this.

“We’ve retailers who’ve been begging for an hour’s free parking. LB First is desperate for that. We’re losing shops and banks, while another independent business has announced it’s going.

“Our High Street is dying on its feet. We’ve plenty of good shops, but we’re not a destination shopping town. We’re the place people can nip into for an hour.

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“We’re missing such a chance. We’ve a worse muddled plan than 18 months ago, which should be discussed properly with retailers desperate to make things work.

“We’ve all failed our residents and our local town, and letting down our brilliant retailers who fight so hard.”

Conservative Dunstable West councillor Nigel Young described it as “a bit of panic”, saying: “We urged you to divorce car park charges from your list, to support an inflationary increase to your main fees and charges. It’s really ridiculously childish and unbecoming of you.”

Conservative Clifton, Henlow and Langford councillor Richard Wenham labelled it “not a good proposal”, adding: “lt should have gone to scrutiny. It’s an abuse of process.

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“What’s the point of having scrutiny when something like this appears at one minute’s notice?” he asked.

Liberal Democrat Leighton Linslade South councillor Shaun Roberts explained: “I echo some of the concerns about the process. Right now help is needed more than ever.

“There’s support from all sides to help town centres. But neither the freeze or the cut in these rates is the final solution to this problem.”

Labour Dunstable North councillor Matt Brennan confirmed he was “happy to support this amendment”.

Councillors supported the amendment and then approved it as the main motion.