Recommendations in a controversial car parking fees and charges consultation report include free afternoon parking twice a week in a Leighton Buzzard car park, an offer a ward councillor found to be "extraordinary".
The Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee was asked to consider the report yesterday (Thursday, January 20) and endorse its recommendations to the Executive.
Despite overwhelming objections from respondents that opposed any increases, the report proposed that parking fees in Central Bedfordshire Council car parks should be increased which was supportedby the committee. Read more here.
Councillor Victoria Harvey (Independent, Linslade) pointed out that a council-owned multi-storey car park in Leighton Buzzard was "remarkably" empty and makes a great place to go skateboarding.
"Throughout the pandemic, throughout the time that the multi-storey has been sitting very empty, the retail park on Grovebury Road that offers free parking is consistently full," she said.
"It offers much the same offer of the town centre with cafes, with food, with a range of comparison goods and you can park for free.
"The main response [to the consultation] is that respondents believe the parking charges and the proposal to increase charges is having a detrimental impact on local businesses.
"The FSB, who spoke here at the last meeting, have really stressed the importance of free parking or reducing parking charges in order to encourage people in," she said.
The "extraordinary" parking recommendation was free afternoon parking at Leighton Buzzard's Duncombe Drive Car Park from 2pm to 6pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays (currently it is free on Wednesday afternoons).
"The offer of the free parking in Duncombe Drive, I'm afraid I find it extraordinary, " councillor Harvey said.
"Because Duncombe Drive is usually full, so you're giving free parking to people who are parking there already rather than attracting people in.
"And it doesn't fit with the hours of our market, so it's a very strange time to attract people in.
"So I just feel there’s a lack of joined up thinking," she added.
The executive member for place and communities, councillor Ian Dalgarno (Conservative, Arlesey Ward) replied: "We are in a bit of a two-fold situation, obviously, with the impact of COVID we've taken a number of different measures on the high street in Leighton Buzzard,
"Leighton Buzzard High Street has had an extraordinary traffic management order put on it and that’s impacted on what's happened on the high street there.
"A review of that has been ongoing and we will make some decisions on that early next month, actually just before we go to Executive.
"So the outcomes of that will impact on footfall and the high street and things like that as well.
"So in terms of Leighton Buzzard, it's a lot more complicated than just 'oh, we're looking to put up prices, how do we manage things, how do we support the market, how do we support the traders', etc."
"It's intrinsically linked, I'm afraid to say, and we will get to outcomes like that before we go to Executive," he said.
Committee chair, councillor Nigel Young (Conservative, Dunstable Watling Ward) wanted clarification on the recommendation that "card payments for tariffs below £3.50 are introduced at the payment machines in the Multi Storey Car Park in Leighton Buzzard only".
Jeanette Keyte, head of community safety, parking and programme said: "Currently in terms of card payments, all of our car parks where we have pay and display machines you can pay by card by using the JustPark app.
"The multi-storey car park has a different payment system, which means unfortunately, our residents haven't been able to pay by card for anything below £3.50.
"So we are proposing that for the multi-storey car park only, we will enable the machine to take card payments below £3.50," she said.
Councillor Young said: "I'm sorry to get bogged down in this, so if I go and pay for car parking in Duncombe Drive for 1-hour, which costs £1 or £1 50 at the moment, I will be charged £1 or £1.50 not using a phone using a debit card?"
"No, Mr Chairman," councillor Dalgarno replied.
"We have a system in place, where we are trying to move members of the public onto using the JustPark app, so we give people the options."
Councillor Young said: "Thank you, Ian, thank you very much. So you’re continuing to charge members of the public who haven't got phone's £3.50 for the minimum stay or whatever and they don't get any value until they stay for four hours and you're not proposing to change that?
"That is just blatant, absolutely blatant."
The report and the committee's recommendations will now be considered by the Council's Executive.