Church leaders today hit out at proposed Sunday and evening car parking charging for Leeds city centre, warning the move could send congregation numbers plunging, as well as affecting businesses by discouraging shoppers.
Leeds City Council is currently consulting on the plan, which is part of a wider aim to claw back cash in order to shave £51 million off the city’s overall budget.
A spokesman for the C of E diocese of Ripon and Leeds said some churches in the city centre were already actively encouraging their congregations to oppose the controversial levy.
“This would make life difficult for people who have been members of the central Leeds congregations for many years,” he said. “We hope that it won’t be necessary.
“City centre churches are already actively encouraging their members to make their views known and we would encourage those who are opposed to take part in the online survey.”
The Dean of Leeds Cathedral, Rev Monsignor Philip Moger, said the plans were already causing concern among Catholic worshippers in the city.
“It would impact greatly on the Cathedral,” a statement on his behalf said.
“Also a lot of people from outlying districts and other towns come especially to Leeds on a Sunday to do their shopping because of the nicer atmosphere on a Sunday, and of course the added bonus of free parking is also an incentive.
“Leeds City Council need to think very carefully about imposing Sunday parking charges as this could also have a bad impact on the shops, museums and other tourist attractions here in Leeds.”
A spokesman for the council said: “The public consultation concerning the budget proposals on parking charges ends on January 20. After that we will look at the responses and they will be considered when the recommendations are put forward as part of the council’s budget plan for next year.”
Luke Bosdet, spokesman for the AA, said councils were treating motorists as if they have “bottomless pockets” - and warned against “kneejerk” policy changes.
“Motorists are already being squeezed by record pump prices,” he said. “So a combination of the high cost of owning a car and other drains on spending mean they may be LESS likely to use car parks. It also undermines other [city centre] activity.
“The council too are being squeezed by austerity, so they are obviously looking to other places to try and fill those holes. But if they get the calculations wrong and drive people to other cities or to online shopping, it means that businesses suffer.
“It’s almost a kneejerk reaction to put up parking charges.”