A petition calling on Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) to drop car parking charges at some locations and reduce the cost at others has been launched this week.
The online Care2 petition, which has been signed by more than 200 people in the last two days, says parking charges fail to recognise competition and are damaging to the local economy.
It also wants leisure areas such as the Riverside Park, in St Neots, to be free of charge to encourage people to use and enjoy open spaces without worrying about charges and time limits.
The petition states: “Charges for these car parks fail to recognise competition from out-of-town stores with free parking, the displacement of cars to residential streets and the impact on retailers and users of community facilities in town centres.”
A social media storm also erupted this week after district councillor Tom Sanderson raised concerns that rather than reduce the cost, plans were being made to introduce charging on Sundays in St Neots, St Ives and Huntingdon.
The Hunts Post contacted HDC to ask whether Sunday charging was part of its current car parking review and received this response from Cllr Marge Beuttell: “I can confirm that fees and charges are not covered by this strategy document. I can also confirm that, contrary to recent coverage on social media, that Huntingdonshire District Council has absolutely no plans to charge for off-street car parking on Sundays, now or in the future.”
She continued: “The matter of off-street car parking was discussed at a meeting of the council’s overview & scrutiny panel on October 2 and the panel is subsequently drawing up reports and making recommendations to the full council or its cabinet as a result of its findings.”
Cllr Beuttell confirmed that final consideration of the strategy would take place at a meeting on October 18.
Councillors are, however, worried about the current level of charges and the impact they have on town centres.
“Blindly increasing car park charges for town centre users undermines the work of our town councils in attempting to preserve jobs and economic livelihood at the heart of these towns,” said St Neots mayor, Cllr Barry Chapman
Cllr Chapman added: “The three market towns are the only places in the county, other than central Cambridge, to have car parking charges and these have been progressively increased by HDC to generate approaching £500,000 per annum. These charges urgently need to be reduced. HDC has responsibility for economic support and development of our town centres. At least halving existing charges is needed to boost economic activity.”
One respondent on the petition made the following comments: “I’ve lived in St Neots 21 years. When the Riverside parking was free the car parks were always busy during the day. People knew in other towns and came to St Neots because of that reason. They could come to shop, maybe have a coffee and a bite to eat and then enjoy the parks and river at their leisure and I mean without a time limit.
“Without having to rush around town, skipping the coffee or the impronto bite with friends you may have bumped into. The pop into town was also a social occasion for many.
“This has now changed because we have a time limit on our car and do not either have the correct change for the parking machine or simply cannot afford to linger in town or pay to park regularily during the week. It’s very simple, when parking was free people of all ages and means could spend regular time in town.”
HDC launched its car parking strategy review to look at all aspects of the council-owned car parks, including revenue and usage.
The review says car ownership in Huntingdonshire is significantly higher than the national average and only 14 per cent of homes do not own a car.
A survey of car park users showed the number of people using new mobile phone technology to pay was low and the average length of stay was also low.