SCRAPPING free parking in Totton town centre will hit shoppers and low-paid workers employed by businesses there, a district council meeting heard.
Currently, the town council pays an annual fee of £28,000 to New Forest District Council to ensure the Civic Centre and Westfield Road car parks, which NFDC owns, are free to motorists.
Although this covers the business rates, NFDC claims it is losing out on income and needs money to cover maintenance, administration and enforcement.
The charges will come in on 1st January under plans in a report signed off by Cllr Edward Heron, NFDC’s Conservative cabinet member for planning and infrastructure.
But speaking at the council’s latest full meeting, Liberal Democrat Cllr Matt Kangarani criticised the lack of business consultation and warned the change would have “unintended consequences”.
“I’ve got a business in Totton and I employ staff who are travelling from Romsey, Southampton and Hythe. Already they are asking me to consider increasing their wages to compensate for the parking fees they will have to pay,” he said.
“Given the pandemic situation, which will continue into at least January or February, these extra costs will deter people further from coming to Totton, which is already underwhelmed.”
But Cllr Heron pointed out shoppers could purchase an annual short-stay parking clock from the council, which he argued was “exceptional value” for money.
“Residents making use of this clock for three hours once a week would in effect be paying the equivalent rate of less than 18p per hour,” he said.
Cllr Heron explained that the council’s long-stay parking clock costs the equivalent of 46p per working day. “I would hope employers are not paying wages at a level that would cause undue distress,” he added.
Cllr Caroline Rackham said the charges would also impact those visiting the nearby health centre and a community centre that specialises in activities for the elderly.
She continued: “Because this is such an issue for anyone working in the town centre and for the businesses, I wondered what sort of consultation was undertaken by the portfolio holder?”
Cllr Heron replied: “The parking order will go out for a period of consultation and we will consider responses that are made to that.”
It is predicted the move would make around £80,000 per year for the district council. An NFDC report outlining the move noted the current arrangement was not available to other towns.
Changing spaces from long-stay to short-stay will encourage greater turnover of vehicles and create more parking in support of local businesses in the centre of town, the report added.
The plan is to scrap all 20 long-stay spaces in the Civic Centre car park, which has 100 spaces in total, and change them to short-stay. It also proposes to change all 85 spaces in Winsor Road car park to short-stay. Short-stay parking would range from £1 for one hour and up to £2.50 for three hours.
In Westfield Road car park, the 40 current long-stay spaces would also be changed to a maximum of three hours. The remaining short-stay parking, around 150 spaces, would be charged at the same rates.
The remaining long-stay bays in Westfield Road would be charged at £3 for four hours, £4 for five hours or £5 for 20 hours.