Controversial plans to introduce new parking charges in Harrogate, branded a “stealth tax” by furious campaigners, are to be decided on Tuesday after a year of fierce debate.
North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) announced plans in May last year to bring in Sunday parking charges, a move which sparked a huge public backlash.
Campaigners, fearful that charging people to park would put them off visiting the town altogether, set up petitions backed by thousands.
And now, as the decision is to be put before the authority’s executive committee with a recommendation for approval, they say they feel deeply dispirited that their views haven’t been heard.
“It’s incredibly disappointing,” said petition founder Mike Pywell, adding that just six per cent of respondents to the council’s own consultation were in favour of the change.
“NYCC views Harrogate as a golden goose. That no matter how much money they take out of it, it won’t impact on the survival of the town. That is wrong. This is a classic case of the county council is not listening.”
NYCC first mooted the plans 15 months ago, citing town centre congestion and a lack of turnover for the area’s prime parking spots. While charges were in place for the rest of the week, Sundays are traditionally free and, the authority said, people were leaving their cars all day as a result.
Bringing in charges, they said, would encourage people to park in off-street spaces in line with Government recommendations, and would increase turnover.
Campaigners, aghast at the plans, set up petitions, raising 1, 492 signatures on one and 2,627 on a second, with 150 people attending an area committee meeting. Concerns were raised over the impact on the economy and the cost to church goers, while more than 50 people argued there was no shortage of Sunday parking spaces to start with.
A county council consultation, which drew 761 responses, found that just six per cent were in favour of Sunday parking.
“This is wrong - we should be standing up to protect free parking,” said Mr Pywell. “Anybody would know that parking charges will put people off going into town. If they can’t find a free space, they will park in the paid for ones.
“This isn’t a stealth tax on the wealthy - it’s a stealth tax on everybody. We don’t object to controls - but why don’t they bring in disc parking? It’s because this is about the money. They say it isn’t but it’s obvious.
“This is all about the revenue.”
County councillor Don Mackenzie, cabinet member for transport, said the primary focus is to reduce congestion and free up parking spaces for visitors.
“If visitors want to come to Harrogate to spend their money, they will be put off if they can’t find somewhere to park,” he said, adding that disc parking would be costly to introduce and enforce. “It’s not being introduced to raise money. Of course, parking surplus does create funding. That surplus is put back into the transport network.
“Sunday has become a retail day like any other. More shops are open, many do their best trade.
“The evidence is right there before our eyes, but also in the reports. Town centre streets are parked up for most of Sunday and, in many cases, for far longer than the maximum stay any other day of the week.
“Members will make their minds up themselves based on the evidence at the meeting. I believe the case has been made.
“This is being done to help business, not hinder it.”