Members of Redenhall with Harleston Town Council will meet with South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller on Monday for discussions in a bid to keep parking free at the point of use in the town.
Car parking in Bullock Fair Close and Broad Street in Harleston is currently free for motorists, with the town council paying £17,156 in a lease agreement with the district authority. This is made up of contributions the town council, local parish councils, and businesses in the town. South Norfolk Council says the district’s pick up the “significant” remaining costs.
The district council says the changes would bring the town’s facilities in line with other car parks in the district, which offer one hour of free parking, and would support businesses by discouraging people from parking all day.
But residents, business owners and councillors in the town have expressed concerns over the proposal from South Norfolk Council to take back control of the car parks and implement charges later this year.
The current lease agreement comes to an end in September.
Redenhall with Harleston Town Council put forward a plan to South Norfolk Council back in March, offering to take the car parks on a lease on a peppercorn rent.
We want to work with South Norfolk Council on this. We thought we had a good proposal to put forwardFrances Bickley, Redenhall with Harleston Town Council vice-chairman
They claim their proposal would be cost-neutral to South Norfolk Council – and would save the them money on resurfacing and maintenance, as well as the need to install parking meters, policing the car park, and the subsequent administration costs it would bring. South Norfolk Council claimed it wasn’t a cost neutral option, however.
The town council did not receive a reply until June 12 – claiming Mr Fuller had cited purdah rules in force with the local and general elections. Their offer was turned down.
South Norfolk Council came back with a counter offer for a lease of £50,000 a year, with a decision deadline of June 30. It includes provision for resurfacing in future years, and also covers the costs of operating a car parking service across the district.
Redenhall with Harleston Town Council said they had requested a meeting with Mr Fuller to consider further possibilities.
Town council vice-chairman Frances Bickley, who is leading the effort on car parking, said she was disappointed that their initial proposal was turned down by the council.
“We are running out of time, but that is not through a lack of trying,” she told the Diss Express. “We thought we would be able to save them those costs.
“We want to work with South Norfolk Council on this. We thought we had a good proposal to put forward.”
But South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller said their counter offer was in fact a cost-neutral proposal. He said the amount of money needed to run the car parks was agreed with the town council’s car parking group earlier this year, factoring in business rates, repairs and running costs.
Mr Fuller added the council was committed to free parking for at least the first hour - with opportunity for market towns to upgrade to a second hour, as they have done in Loddon.
“We are committed to free parking,” he said. “Nothing dilutes that but it is got to be with turnover of the best car parking spaces. All day parking does not help our shopkeepers one little bit.
“I am looking forward to our meeting on Monday so we can discuss this but time is getting short.
“We have got to deal equally and fairly with all of our market towns and we cannot have one market town subsidising another.”
Mrs Bickley said she would be liaising with clerk Lynda Ling and fellow councillor John Marjoram, who will also attend the meeting, to form a plan of action ahead of discussions with Mr Fuller.
“Free parking is incredibly important to the vibrancy of the town, and we are trying our best to ensure that stays the same,” she said.
“It is good for businesses and for people coming into the town. It encourages footfall and we want to try and keep that.
Mrs Bickley said the council would need to go back to Harleston residents with any potential deal as it would be the town council precept – its portion of the tax bill – that would help fund any agreement.
Of the £17,156 yearly lease figure to keep the car parks free, 77 per cent of that is funded by the town council.