BUSINESS leaders are demanding that councillors scrap plans that would see parking charges for shoppers rise by two-thirds from August, with some charges set to double overnight. Both Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce and the Huntingdonshire branch of t
BUSINESS leaders are demanding that councillors scrap plans that would see parking charges for shoppers rise by two-thirds from August, with some charges set to double overnight.
Both Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce and the Huntingdonshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses have written to Huntingdonshire District Council chief executive David Monks to complain about the impending increases.
After a challenge from one of the council's scrutiny committees over reduced charges for low emission vehicles, HDC's cabinet decided in April to hike charges for the first hour in short-stay car parks from the present 30p to 50p, instead of the originally planned 40p. The second hour will cost £1, compared with the 80p originally proposed. Some charges in edge-of-town-centre car parks will double.
Business leaders say the move will drive shoppers to Peterborough or Cambridge if they lose the advantage of cheaper parking in Huntingdon, St Ives and St Neots.
In his letter to Mr Monks, Stan Taylor, the chamber's external relations manager, wrote: "We want to do all we can to ensure that Huntingdonshire's market towns remain an attractive place to live, shop, work and relax.
"We understand that operating car parks costs money. However, we would like the council to pay careful consideration to the potential negative impact the proposed charges will have upon the district's businesses.
"We are concerned that it is shoppers and other short-term visitors to the towns who are being forced to pay more to cover these costs while those who use the car parks for up to 10 hours per day will continue to do so with no increase to the charge they face.
"While we understand that this will benefit employees who currently park within the Riverside and Bridge Place car parks, we would have preferred to see a more balanced proposal which did not focus on shoppers and short-term visitors who stay in our towns for less than four hours.
"Encouraging shoppers and other visitors to our market towns is key if we are to compete with neighbouring towns and cities and ensure economic prosperity for our local businesses."
Malcom Lyons, Hunts FSB chairman, said: "We want to see vibrant market towns that encourage both visitors and residents to shop in our towns. We want to support our shopkeepers so their businesses remain profitable, and viable concerns. High parking charges will not help their case. We see this as a discouragement to shoppers visiting our towns, especially with inadequate public transport.
"Despite the increased fuel costs, we must compete with our neighbouring large towns - Peterborough and Cambridge. For example, Peterborough charges £1.10 for two hours: this is more cost effective for shoppers.
"We wish you to consider reducing the charges for the first two hours to the present level," he urged Mr Monks and asked for a meeting to discuss the issue before the charges change. "To encourage shoppers to our towns on Saturdays, please continue to make Long Stay parking free."
According to the chamber, the current economic climate is already causing considerable difficulties for businesses in Huntingdonshire, and the rising cost of energy, fuel and raw materials, the weak Euro and low consumer spending are all contributing factors.
A spokesman added: "Businesses are having a tough time of it at the moment, so discouraging potential customers and visitors to our towns by increasing parking charges, however slightly, is not going to help anyone. We just want the council truly to balance the additional income such increases would generate against the difficulties it may cause businesses before it makes a final decision."
A council spokesman said the business leaders' comments would be considered along with other responses to the public consultation, which closed on June 5. Feedback would be considered by the council's cabinet on either June 26 or July 17 before the cabinet decided whether to confirm or vary the proposed order.