Counting the cost of leisure parking

DRIVERS who park in Huntingdonshire s leisure centre car parks could soon face charges in a bid to stamp out abuse by workers trying to avoid town centre parking fees. But people who are actually using the leisure facilities would get their money back, if

DRIVERS who park in Huntingdonshire's leisure centre car parks could soon face charges in a bid to stamp out abuse by workers trying to avoid town centre parking fees.

But people who are actually using the leisure facilities would get their money back, if the move went ahead.

"We don't want to discourage people from trying to get fit or keep fit," said Councillor Doug Dew, who suggested the move to Huntingdonshire District Council's cabinet last week.

The problem is said to be particularly acute in St Ives and Huntingdon, where the leisure centre car parks are used by staff at adjacent secondary schools - St Ivo and St Peter's respectively, as well as workers in the town centres.

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Leisure centre managers have complained that the people for whom the car parks were provided often have difficulty parking to make use of the facilities. Staff running the centres face the same problems, said Cllr Dew, who has executive responsibility for leisure.

Parking charges at leisure centres is one of the ideas on which the public will be consulted over the next few months, with a new three-year strategy for the district due to take effect in April 2008.

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It is likely to see charges - which are now among the lowest in the country - increase and new restrictions imposed on long-term parking to deter London commuters from taking up space designed for local workers and shoppers.

Many of the spaces in some free edge-of-town-centre car parks, particularly at Huntingdon's Riverside, are taken up by rail travellers before 7am. A nine or 10-hour limit could force them either to use public transport to get to the station or swallow the £4.80-a-day peak charge in the station car parks. Travellers from St Neots are charged even more before 10am, after which there is a flat-rate £1 charge for off-peak rail users.

Another perceived problem at Huntingdon's Riverside is that it is being colonised by employees of social landlord the Luminus Group since it decided to build on its own car park in Ouse Walk.

What could happen there and in other long-stay car parks in the town is a daily charge of £1.50, rising over time to £6.

Elsewhere in the town, some long-stay spaces could be restricted to short-stay, to be replaced by additional space at HDC's now-deserted former depot just over the river in Godmanchester. Its operations department, including its fleet of refuse and recycling vehicles, moved early in September to a purpose-built £6.4million facility in Latham Road, off the A141, which it shares with other council departments.

Other than increased charges, where they apply, few changes are proposed in the rest of the district, as The Hunts Post reported extensively last month.

In St Neots, the Tan Yard car park would become short-stay to remedy a shortage of space on market day, Thursday morning. But there could be restrictions on residential streets near the railway station.

Little change is planned for St Ives, although councillors are concerned that a new park-and-ride facility for the Cambridge-Huntingdon guided bus from early 2009 could cause road safety risks for pedestrians accessing the town centre.

There could also be a short-term problem if parking had to be banned from the 55 arches of the town's 200-year-old New Bridges in London Road while the county council spends millions of pounds repairing the causeway, recently re-listed as Grade II*.

The strategy has been delayed for a year by the controlling Conservative group's reluctance to take potentially unpopular decisions about charging without cross-party agreement. This has cost Council Tax payers nearly £700,000 in lost income, although its vacillation has delayed some expenditure, according to figures in council papers.

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