Decision on future of Harleston car parks deferred until next month

MDEP-16-11-2016-030 Broad Street Car Park Harleston
MDEP-16-11-2016-030 Broad Street Car Park Harleston

A decision on the future of car parking in Harleston will be made next month.

Representatives of Redenhall with Harleston Town Council met South Norfolk Council members, including leader John Fuller, in a bid to find a solution over the issue.

MDEP-16-11-2016-028 Bullock Fair Close Car Park Harleston

MDEP-16-11-2016-028 Bullock Fair Close Car Park Harleston

One offer was already on the table to the town council to lease the car parks for at least £50,000 a year – but another, where a £15,700 annual charge would be paid for an extra free hour, giving a total two hours free parking, has also been put forward.

Parking has been free at the point of use in the town’s two car parks, in Bullock Fair Close and Broad Street, with the town council paying £17,156 in a lease agreement with the district authority.

South Norfolk Council claims the district’s council tax payers have been picking up the ‘significant’ remaining costs. The lease agreement runs out in September.

But there was outcry in the town from councillors, residents and businesses after South Norfolk Council unveiled a proposal to take back control of the car parks, and implement charges later this year.

We are working with the town council to achieve the best possible outcome for the residents and businesses of Harleston

South Norfolk Council statement

The council claims that by categorising car parks to short and long stay, it would stop ‘space blocking’, which would benefit businesses by discouraging people from parking all day – and would bring the town’s car parks in line with others in the district.

A single issue meeting has now been set for Harleston Leisure Centre on Wednesday, August 9, at 7pm – when the town council will make a final decision.

Redenhall with Harleston Town Council chairman Barry Woods said: “There are various other things that we need to sort out before we come to a final decision.”

Mr Woods also revealed that a splinter group – purportedly representing the town council – had been in discussions with South Norfolk Council, but not reporting back figures or information. Mr Woods said the identity of the those in the group was not known.

A statement from South Norfolk Council read: “We understand that Harleston Town Council will be holding a single item meeting to discuss car parks on August 9 and we hope to be able to move forward after that meeting.

“We are working with the town council to achieve the best possible outcome for the residents and businesses of Harleston, but, as the district council, we have to look after the interests of all of our residents and ensure that our market towns are treated equally.

“It is not fair for residents living in our other market towns to subsidise free parking for residents of Harleston.”

The town council had proposed a peppercorn rent plan for the town’s car parks in March.

It was claimed that its proposal would be cost-neutral to South Norfolk Council – and would save them money on resurfacing and maintenance, as well as the need to install parking meters, carry out policing and any subsequent administration costs it would bring. South Norfolk Council claimed it was not a cost neutral option, however.

South Norfolk Council came back with a counter offer for a lease of £50,000 a year. It includes provision for resurfacing in future years, and also covers the costs of operating a car parking service across the district.

This is made up of £37,000 costs – which would include enforcement costs, administration costs, maintenance of equipment and security, and a £13,000 sink fund.

Frances Bickley, vice-chairman of the town council, said: “The benefits is that we would have no responsibility for the car parks, but we do realise free parking is important to Harleston.

“But we do have to pay business rates on top of the lease, so the £50,000 would not be £50,000 – it would be plus business rates and other costs.”

The other offer, of a second free hour at the town’s car parks, would see the responsibility of the car parks handed back to South Norfolk Council.

It would also mean the town council would not have to pay business rates, or maintenance costs.

It would see Broad Street become a long stay car park, with Bullock Fair a short stay.

Mrs Bickley also revealed she would be meeting the development manager of the East of England Co-op on July 28 to look to them to make a contribution towards the potential £15,700 cost of providing their customers with the extra free hour on that site.

The council also aims to seek a contribution from businesses and outlying parishes – and claims about £10,000 would be saved on current costs of business rates and administration costs.

During the public participation during the meeting, some residents questioned how the £50,000 had been arrived at.

One argued some of the increased costs were only being incurred because of the proposed introduction of a charging regime – such as ticket machines and policing – which would not be required should the car parks remain free all day.

And another told councillors: “The obligation of the district council is to do the best for its community.

“This community has invested a massive amount of volunteer effort to support South Norfolk Council’s market town’s initiative to make Harleston a vital place.”