Seeking views on increasing Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable's parking charges was merely a 'lip service' consultation, says councillor

Strong opposition to raising fees but council needs the extra income to achieve balanced budget

By John Guinn
Friday, 21st January 2022, 11:47 am

Potential parking charge rises in Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable have been strongly rejected by the public who responded to a consultation on plans to up the cost.

And Central Beds Council has been accused by one Linslade councillor of merely paying "lip service" to the idea of seeking the views of residents and business as it looks to press ahead with a 50p increase for most time bands in the bulk of its car parks.

The council want to raise £300,000 in its medium-term financial plan through increased car park fees and charges in parts of Central Bedfordshire.

Duncombe Drive car park in Leighton Buzzard

A report on Central Bedfordshire Council’s Parking Charges and Fees Consultation said respondents were not supportive of proposals to increase car parking charges.

As previously reported, town councillors, retailers and the Federation of Small Businesses have all expressed dismay about the impact of any rise on a fragile High Street recovering from pandemic,

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But although the report added that the council understood the concerns raised by respondents over increasing parking fees, its recommendations for the council’s Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider yesterday (Thursday, January 20) included increasing car parking charges and resident parking permits fees.

Peter Snelling (Lib Dem, Linslade) said: “I am concerned about the implication for consultations, we’ve seen how many responded, over a thousand people responded, and it says clearly in the paperwork, the responses have not been supportive of any of the proposals to increase these charges.

“That’s hardly a surprise, the problem is councillor Dalgarno in his response has only paid lip service to the governing principles on consultations and intends to ignore most of these people, apart from a very limited concession of free parking on a couple of afternoons.

“As much as anything, it raises the issue of trust,” he said.

“We hear nationally about a lack of trust in the government over various things that are going on. The problem we have here in Central Beds is a lack of trust in this council as well, because of the fact that people reply to consultations and are totally ignored.

“The same thing happened last year over the main budget consultation. In fact the proposals came to committee, I think to the Executive, before the consultation was even finished.

“So it’s a lack of trust which seems to pervade the Conservative Party is now coming down to local councils as well.

“I hope this committee will again reject these increases,” he said.

Councillor Johnson Tamara (Conservative, Dunstable Northfields) said: “I think it’s so abundantly clear that if the Executive decides to go forward with this, the backlash would not be good.

“It seems to me that ignoring the consultation responses that you’ve asked for would totally destroy the reputation of this council and the Executive.”

Councillor Ian Dalgarno (Conservative, Arlesey), the executive member for community services, said: “This is a difficult decision, as the portfolio holder I have tried to take a balanced view on this, and I respect the comments that have been made by everybody in the room.

“We haven’t had any increases in parking charges for more than three years. If we were doing things similar to other parts of the authority and we increased things in line with inflation every year in terms of fees and charges and then we maybe wouldn’t be in this position.

“But historically we’ve reviewed this on a tri-annual basis in effect, and obviously that’s been impacted a little bit by Covid.

“Unfortunately, as has very well been identified in the report, nobody likes to see any increases in anything, and I respect that, but the consultation looks at slightly wider aspects of that.

“So we did the pricing, but we also looked at the other issues to look for guidance. It’s not a referendum, yes/no, it’s about actually we ask for suggestions and we ask for input, etc.

“And within the comments made by residents, [there were] lots of good suggestions coming forward, but they didn’t save that £300,000, that efficiency that we need to meet so that we have a balanced budget,” he said.

The committee voted to endorse the increased parking charges. It will now be considered by the council's Executive on February 8 and subject to approval the new tariffs will begin on April 1.