THE last free parking spaces in St Neots town centre will disappear next month.
On April 8 Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) is set to re-impose parking charges for the 39 spaces that currently allow visitors to park free for two hours at the Riverside car park.
Councillors decided that the free spaces were being used by shop keepers and shoppers using the high street rather than the park users who the spaces were intended for.
However, district councillor for Eaton Socon Derek Giles disputes this, stating that the free parking in the area brings people from further afield and that removing this will further reduce the footfall in the high street which is already at a 20 per cent decrease from 2006.
The decision was made in November at a meeting in which parking changes across the district were decided upon.
HDC held a consultation period for any complaints from the public but Cllr Giles who has only just found out about the plans said that it was not made clear at the time that these changes were on the table.
Cllr Giles said: “Most of the attention at the time was given to the plans to make most car parks in the district two-hour minimum stay.
“We have been against parking charges for this car park right from the start not just because of its high leisure use but to encourage shoppers to our town.”
Cllr Nick Guyatt who is responsible for car parking policy at HDC said that the free spaces were not being used for the park and that charges were necessary.
He said: “We found that the number of people using the spaces far outweighed the number of people using the park and that was what the free spaces were for.
“It was all part of the consultation we did last year on car parking changes including taking away the free parking spaces in St Neots.”
Cllr Giles admitted that the spaces had not been used for the park and even stated that he himself used to park there to attend the dentist.
He said that they served the greater purpose of encouraging people to visit the town from further afield.
Cllr Giles said: “I’ve spoken to people who had parked there coming from as far as Bedford to the town to shop.
“I think this decision goes completely against the economic climate we’re in at the moment.”
Despite Cllr Giles assertions the mayor of St Neots Cllr Barry Chapman disagreed that the parking charges would further reduce footfall.
He said: “There is no proof that parking charges have anything to do with reduced footfall.
“Look at St Ives, they’ve increased their footfall without free parking in the town centre.”