At the Highways and Transport Committee, Cheshire East Conservatives, together with cross-party colleagues, rejected proposals to consult on a standardised system of charging ‘zones’ across all the Borough’s car parks.
Officers and Deputy Leader (also Committee Chair), Cllr Craig Browne (Ind) claimed that the scheme was fairer, as towns where car parking is currently free, would now have to pay. But it was later confirmed that an anticipated additional £1million from car-parking income is already included in the mid-term financial strategy to fund other transport activities - Councillors justifiably questioned the value of a public consultation on proposals where the anticipated, additional income is already included in the Council’s budget.
The scheme would have imposed the same higher tier charges on many small town car parks as those in Crewe and Macclesfield town centres, with many others charged at a slightly lower rate.
Cllr Don Stockton (Con) stated “Standardisation is not the way forward …”, “Parking isn’t just about car parking charges, it’s about the vitality of towns”. He went on to ask why the council had not continued with the Town Parking Review process that started with Wilmslow in 2019 - a view supported by Cllr Barry Burkhill (Ind).
Cllr Gage (Con) made it clear that he could not support a scheme that proposed a blanket rise across the borough, without ‘levelling down’ the highest fee structures already paid in Crewe and Nantwich.
But in an extraordinary statement, Crewe Cllr Hazel Faddes (Lab) stated that Crewe residents “are happy to pay” car park charges as they understood that car parks needed financing!
In a lengthy debate, members acknowledged that car park charging is necessary for maintenance, improvement and enforcement, but excessive price hikes would increase on-street parking. They also questioned claims that standardised higher charges would increase Active Travel, ‘nudging’ residents to change their behaviour to walk and cycle - a claim justifiably challenged by Cllr Williams (LD) in the light of Cheshire East’s ageing population and rural geography and reinforced by Cllr Les Gilbert (Con) who stated that a “One size fits all (scheme) is not adequate”.
Throughout the meeting Cllrs Craig Browne (Ind) and Laura Crane (Lab), suggested a number of ‘friendly’ amendments in, at times, a chaotic attempt to make the proposals acceptable to committee members.
Conservative spokesperson Cllr Mike Sewart later stated;
“Common sense has prevailed. Our members have pointed out the flaws in the proposed plans which are aimed to operate car parks at a higher profit to subsidise other council highways activities. Three ruling coalition members also recognised the faults in the proposals and also voted to reject the recommendations by 8 votes to 5.”
Any future strategy must take on board the critical issues highlighted in this debate.
Cllr Janet Clowes
Conservative Group Leader
Cheshire East Council