Resistance in Leighton Buzzard to 'badly timed' proposed hike in car parking fees

FSB members are among those 'dismayed' by council plan

Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 4:33 pm

A local authority’s plan to raise £300,000 through increased car park fees and charges in parts of Central Bedfordshire, including Leighton Buzzard, is badly timed, a meeting heard.

Local residents and visitors are set to pay more to use Central Bedfordshire Council car parks, subject to a consultation process which ends on November 14.

CBC is seeking £300,000 from parking in its medium-term financial plan. Its sustainable communities overview and scrutiny committee was asked to comment on the proposals which would see a 50p increase for most time bands in the bulk of its car parks..

Duncombe Drive car park in Leighton Buzzard

“As our town centre retailers continue to face serious challenges, it does seem somewhat inappropriate in its timing,” warned Leighton-Linslade town councillor and deputy mayor Tony Morris.

“I ask you to consider a scheme where the first hour parking might be free of charge. Properly enforced it would be appreciated by all concerned.

“There are half the number of short-term parking spaces in Leighton Buzzard compared to similar sized towns.

“And we’ve twice as many disabled spaces compared to elsewhere. With the recent pedestrianisation of the High Street we’ve lost 35 short-term parking spaces.”

High Street retailer Phil Curtis wondered whether the spread of the proposed price increases was fair, saying: “We’ve got to compete with Grovebury Road and MK1 where it’s free parking.”

Michael Weedon, from the Federation of Small Businesses, told the committee: “Naturally members are dismayed by the proposals.

“They’re already facing a lot of debt themselves and rising costs,” he explained. “There’s no upside for them in terms of the sustainability of their town centres. It’s all risk.

“Nationally footfall has been dropping for 15 years in a row. Footfall is 15 per cent lower despite the fact the population is five per cent bigger.”

Conservative Leighton Buzzard South councillor Ray Berry described it as “ridiculous that you would pay 50p extra” to stay for half a day or for half an hour.

Liberal Democrat Linslade councillor Peter Snelling said: “Overall I’m not happy with this. One of the answers in Leighton Buzzard is for the town council to take over the car parks. But the multi-storey is more of an issue.

“Someone came up with figure of £300,000. It’s called an efficiency, whether it’s a cut to service or a tax on people using car parks in town centres to support the High Street.

“We should set up a task and finish group to look at parking charges and strategy across the whole of the area. Any parking increase should be deferred until year two of the medium-term financial plan.”

Independent Linslade councillor Victoria Harvey reaffirmed her support for “half an hour’s free parking to attract people into the town”, saying: “There’s no point in increased parking charges and having a half empty car park.”

She highlighted the irony of CBC potentially spending thousands of pounds on the junction to Grovebury Road retail park where parking is free.

Conservative Arlesey councillor Ian Dalgarno said: “We recognise the concerns. Leighton Buzzard High Street has a temporary emergency traffic regulation order on it.

“We’re reviewing that. It’s going to be data led. We’re getting consultants to look at that, with a decision expected in January.

“There’s not an obligation for us to consult on these parking fees, but we are. I think it’s important we do,” added councillor Dalgarno, who’s the executive member for community services.

“We genuinely want to get some good outcomes from this and as many options as possible.”

He was reluctant to support setting up a task and finish group near the end of the consultation process but promised the feedback will return to the scrutiny committee.