Results announced after Harleston residents go to the polls on car park vote

Harleston's Memorial Leisure Centre as residents take to the polls. Picture: Andrew Martin.
Harleston's Memorial Leisure Centre as residents take to the polls. Picture: Andrew Martin.

After months of debating, residents in Harleston have voted that the council should renew a long-term lease on the town’s car parks.

The advisory vote took place yesterday at Harleston Leisure Centre, as lines of residents queued outside before doors opened at 4pm.

Frances Bickley, acting-chair of Redenhall with Harleston Town Council at Harleston's Memorial Leisure Centre as residents take to the polls. Picture: Andrew Martin.

Frances Bickley, acting-chair of Redenhall with Harleston Town Council at Harleston's Memorial Leisure Centre as residents take to the polls. Picture: Andrew Martin.

There was a 15 per cent turn out.

The vote was ran, independently of the council, by the Electoral Commission. Residents were given a vote over their preferred option – one hour of free parking, two hours of free parking, or whether they want the council to negotiate a new long-term lease.

When votes were counted, it was revealed that 134 voted for one hour option, 141 voted for three hours option, and 345 for the negotiation of a new long-term lease.

Frances Bickley, acting-chair of Redenhall with Harleston Town Council, said she didn’t know how the result would turn out at the start of the evening.

It’s a very difficult situation, because as a council we need to consider everybody’s needs and, unfortunately, we can’t please everybody with the decision we make

Frances Bickley, acting-chair of Redenhall with Harleston Town Council

Speaking to the Diss Express, she said: “We have given the people of Harleston the opportunity to come along and say what they feel they would like to happen – so, we can take their views into consideration when we resume our deliberations.

“The vote allows everyone the chance to have their say.

“It’s a very difficult situation, because as a council we need to consider everybody’s needs and, unfortunately, we can’t please everybody with the decision we make.

“This poll is advisory to us to how the general public of Harleston feel and will help when we draw our conclusions.”

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.

This has been made up in the past year by 77 per cent from the town council, 15 per cent from businesses, and eight per cent from surrounding parishes.

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.

South Norfolk Council says it would bring Harleston’s car parks in line with others in the district, and increase turnover of spaces.

Harleston resident, Catherine Hart, cast her vote yesterday and said she was concerned the impact parking charges may have on trade.

She added: “I think its necessary to continue with the free parking for the good of the town because a lot of people come from outside the town to shop.”

“It’s been a bit drawn out and I think people have been hoping that other people would make decisions for them, because that is what the town council should be there for.”

Councillor John Marjoram said: “This vote is something the people of Harleston asked for and it’s the only way they get a say. We as a council will make that decision whatever way the votes go”.

Mr Marjoram didn’t think free car parking was a unique aspect to the town. He added: “There’s a lot of people from the surrounding villages that come into Harleson and use the car parks to park and go elsewhere. I think we would be far better off if we had a flow of customers in the town rather than people blocking it up.

“If people can’t find anywhere to park, they will go somewhere else and not come back in future.”

Some voters didn’t receive the chance to vote as they were turned away due to not paying the town’s precept.

Rupert Bragg, originally from the USA, was turned away because he was not on the electoral roll, despite living in the town.

He said: “This is not an election, it is an expression of views. It should be open to anyone who uses the town.

“People who are in the other villages who use the facilities regularly are not allowed to voice their opinion.

“It would be a retrograde step for the town if they brought in paid car parking and it would destroy the relaxed atmosphere of Harleston.”

Postal voting was not made available. However, letters and emails would be taken into consideration.