A PUBLIC meeting has been promised by the leader of Hampshire County Council for Lymington residents to question highways chiefs on their plans to impose controversial parking charges on High Street.
Cllr Keith Mans made the pledge as he came under heavy fire from town councillors and traders at a meeting in which he confirmed that New Milton, Barton and Ringwood would be next.
He also suggested Lymington could be among the first wave of communities in Hampshire to have on-street electric vehicle charging points in the future, as the technology develops.
Currently drivers can park in about 100 spaces on High Street for free for one hour. Under new arrangements, they would have up to 30 minutes free before having to pay for up to two hours, with tighter enforcement from a private contractor.
During his 45-minute interrogation at the town hall Cllr Mans was accused of using Lymington as a “cash cow” and making it a “guinea pig” for the scheme which will be rolled out later to other locations across Hampshire.
The plan is to make on-street traffic enforcement cost-neutral with any profit going to roads maintenance, he told the meeting – but he was forced to admit he did not know how much money it was expected to bring in, or how many or what type of parking machines were being considered.
In response to councillors’ pressure, Cllr Mans agreed to send his deputy Cllr Rob Humby, who is in charge of highways, to answer more questions and to launch a consultation for residents to have their say.
Town mayor Cllr Anne Corbridge cautioned Cllr Mans: “I think you would have understood from the views in the room that it is not doing down well at all in Lymington, and it’s something we will rebel against.
“We are very worried about our high street. If you go on the internet you will find that parking meters are actually being taken out of high streets because of the damage to trade.”
He was further warned by Peter Leyland-Jones, president of Lymington and District Chamber of Commerce and Industry, that extra parking costs would put off visitors and harm small businesses, in particular.
As reported in the A&T, on-street parking is currently overseen by New Forest District Council. But that will pass back to HCC, the highways authority, in April after NFDC refused a revised deal that demanded it meet full costs.
Cllr Keith Mans said HCC was looking to take back control mainly to prepare for the growth in electric cars which ultimately will require widespread introduction of electric points on streets across the county.
He defended the parking fees which he said would increase the turnover of spaces and actually boost footfall for traders, with visitors staying longer for more “destination shopping”. He promised any snags could be looked at again once the system was up and running.
Government funding cuts had hit the county council, he added, and warned that any subsidy for parking would come out of its budget for highways maintenance.
“We have got to do everything we can to maintain the present road network and mend the potholes,” said Cllr Mans.
He added: “Hopefully this town will have the first provision for electric car parking as well, in the future – there’re swings and roundabouts.
“What I do not want to see happen is where Hampshire as a county is behind the residents of the south and the UK generally in the way we provide for electric motor cars.”
But town councillors were more concerned about ticket prices going up once the equipment was in place, if it turned out the scheme was not making enough money.
They also warned High Street, which is in a conservation area, could end up cluttered with street furniture from 10 ticket machines and up to 16 new electric stands which the town council is planning, to meet tighter rules on powering Christmas decorations.
That could hamper stallholders at the Saturday market, warned Cllr Jacqui England, while Cllr Martina Humber predicted older people and/or those with sight-loss would find them an extra obstacle.
Cllr Humber took aim at Cllr Mans, saying: “He was not prepared at all. I felt embarrassed because he could not answer our questions.”
HCC has claimed that about 150 people a day are overstaying the current hour free parking. But Cllr Michael White said that was due to NFDC’s enforcement tailing off as its highways agreement nears the end.
After Cllr Mans left, the town council unanimously voted for a motion, comprising suggestions from Cllr Barry Dunning and Cllr Jack Davies, opposing the “outrageous” proposal.
It urged Cllr Mans to meet with New Forest District Council leader Cllr Barry Rickman to come up with a deal to renew the traffic agreement.