Charging at Sidmouth’s car parks

“Frightened they are going to run out of cash if they don’t receive their funding from the Government, (which let’s face it is not going to happen), as with many councils, they simply look for the easiest option.”  

“It’s a shame they haven’t had the guts to do it bit by bit, over the years, in line with inflation. They’ve done it all in one go. And it’s a shame we’re being targeted because of our beauty.”

“Our car parks are pretty much the cheapest in the South West, and by rights there should have been a more gradual rise over recent years but the previous administration chose not to – something which, in hindsight, looks like a vote-winning but irresponsible move.”

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THE DEBATE OVER CAR PARKS

You can have your cake and eat it – housing and car parks, or doubling your revenue, as suggested by the District Council last year:

Should we build affordable housing above car parks? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Unfortunately, debates over car parks are generally not so creative.

Back in 2019, the District Council wanted to raise car parking charges – which did indeed throw up lots of debate – with some points more constructive than others, perhaps:

Raising car parking charges is about raising revenue – not about reducing emissions – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Raising car parking charges – and threatening the viability of small businesses – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Raising car parking charges: “Given the current state of the high street, this is not the time to put up prices.” – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Raising car parking charges: controversial or more efficient? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

It’s agreed that the District Council did not handle the debate very well – and so the inevitable happened:

Raising car parking charges: controversial proposals dropped – Vision Group for Sidmouth

THE CURRENT DEBATE:

Before Christmas last year, the District Council introduced a £2 all-day fee for its car parks until the end of March:

The council hopes the move will encourage people to shop locally and use local cafes, restaurants and pubs over the Christmas period and during the rest of the winter.

Park all day for £2 in East Devon council car parks | Sidmouth Herald 

It didn’t help that the County Council closed a road to a town-centre car park just before Christmas: 

…the whole Roxburgh car park had been empty during the two days of the resurfacing work.

Sidmouth trader in ‘disbelief’ over pre-Christmas roadworks | Sidmouth Herald

In the new year, it was announced that District Council car parks would become more expensive from April:

Councillor Maddy Chapman (Conservative, Exmouth Brixington) said the plan was unfair, arguing that car parking charges should be increased across East Devon instead of “picking on” services in prime locations.

Leader of the council Paul Arnott (Independent East Devon Alliance, Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley) admitted it was just a matter of time before such a move was made. He said: “Sadly this isn’t going to be a free lunch for any car park in East Devon. There are going to have to be increases. We’re just going to have to look at the big ones [prime location car parks] first – and urgently.”

Charges would increase at 19 car parks around East Devon | Sidmouth Herald

And so the comment began – with Vince Page:

Frightened they are going to run out of cash if they don’t receive their funding from the Government, (which let’s face it is not going to happen), as with many councils, they simply look for the easiest option and apparently if you drive a car it appears you are a fair target…

We must not forget the residents who, having had the number of on-street parking spaces drastically reduced, may avoid Sidmouth altogether, forcing them not to shop locally and drive to out of town supermarkets with large free car parks.

‘A rise in parking charges will hit Sidmouth locals hardest’ | Sidmouth Herald

Meanwhile, County Council roadworks have closed off streets and made the centre of Sidmouth like a ‘ghost town’:

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce David Cook said now was the preferred time for the work, which had originally been scheduled for last autumn. “Devon Highways originally considered starting the works last Autumn, but they wrote to them requesting it was delayed until January, as disruption at one of the busiest times of the year would have been catastrophic especially as businesses recover from the pandemic,” a spokesperson said.

‘It’s a nightmare’: Sidmouth business to town roadworks | Sidmouth Herald

‘The impact of Sidmouth roadworks has divided opinion’ | Sidmouth Herald

As for the proposed rise in District Council car parking fees, the Town Council chair is not happy:

Ian Barlow, chair of Sidmouth Town Council, said increasing the costs disproportionately at popular visitor sites meant towns were ‘punished for their beauty’.

He said the increase should have come in smaller increments each year. “It’s a shame they haven’t had the guts to do it bit by bit, over the years, in line with inflation,” Cllr Barlow added. “They’ve done it all in one go. And it’s a shame we’re being targeted because of our beauty.”

Parking charge rise ‘dangerous’ for Sidmouth, says leader | Sidmouth Herald

The Leader of the District Council explained:

2010 was the last time that East Devon District Council changed the charges to use its car parks. Twelve years ago. Moreover, in the intervening time, a high rate of VAT has been applied to those charges, so now a good chunk of the takings does not even reach the council, but ends up in the Chancellor’s coffers.

In 2022, your council can no longer afford to pull the wool over our residents’ eyes. The car parks need to pay their way. Therefore, for a small selection of prime seaside car parks, the hourly charge will rise to £2 per hour (subject to full council’s approval) but with a maximum tariff so a family can come down from Exeter for a day trip to Exmouth, Beer, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton or Sidmouth for a day out with safe parking for £8.

Crucially council tax payers (i.e. locals) can park all day and all night, for £120 per year. This really does need stressing, because while Facebook feeds will resound with ‘the b***dy council wants to rob us of £2 per hour’, the reality is that local people can park for £2.31 PER WEEK.

‘Why we’re raising charges in some council car parks’ | Sidmouth Herald

East Devon’s MP has voiced opposition to the increase:

Simon Jupp, the Conservative MP for East Devon, said the ‘huge hike’ would put East Devon among the most expensive places to park in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset.

“EDDC insist they need more revenue for council coffers after a difficult period. However, the last few years have been very difficult for many residents and businesses too,” he said. “I am really concerned by the impact on local shops, jobs, and tourism. So are my Conservative colleagues on the council,” Mr Jupp added. “I have heard from businesses who fear shoppers will drive to out-of-town supermarkets or shop online even more, with visitors choosing to go elsewhere.”

Sidmouth MP hits out at ‘huge rise’ in parking charges | Sidmouth Herald

The Chamber of Commerce is also not impressed – and has launched an online petition:

EDDC did not express any concern for the impact upon residents who shop in our town centres, or for the beleaguered traders, who have suffered a lot recently and did so much to support their customers during the pandemic.

We think that £1.20 is a big enough increase and a fair charge. EDDC should honour the commitment that they made to residents, to our visitors, and to the businesses that they claim to support.

Sidmouth Chamber campaigns against parking charge rise | Sidmouth Herald

Petition · Stop EDDC Car Park Charges increase by up to 100% · Change.org

On the Chamber’s Facebook pages, there are some comments – for and against the action.

Firstly, from Exmouth Town and District Councillor Joe Whibley:

Please Read this – it explains why charges are increasing and how you may actually save money.
Written for Exmouth but applies to Sidmouth too. 

(20+) Sidmouth Chamber Of Commerce – Posts | Facebook

With a fuller posting on his blog:

The reasons for this are well worn and oft repeated, but I’ll do so again. EDDC have to provide core services such as rubbish collection and housing, and due to the cuts in funding from central government and the fact they are limited in their powers to raise funds, revenue has to be generated somewhere. Additionally, some local services that we hoped the government would help out with during the pandemic (as they have in other parts of the country) have been left to EDDC to fund – additional money they simply don’t have. And it goes without saying that unfortunately, EDDC costs have risen just as those of other businesses have – they’re not immune to this phenomenon. Our car parks are pretty much the cheapest in the South West, and by rights there should have been a more gradual rise over recent years but the previous administration chose not to – something which, in hindsight, looks like a vote-winning but irresponsible move.

Car Parks in Exmouth – it’s not all bad news…

A second posting on the Chamber’s Facebook pages is from former Cabinet Councillor at Surrey County Mike Goodman, now resident in Sidmouth:

Arere you aware that EDDC Cabinet have agreed to increase car parking charges with the final decision due to be made at EDDC Full Council on February 23rd. This will have a serious effect on businesses, tourists and residents using short stay car parks, at a time when the cost of living is rising.

(20+) Sidmouth Chamber Of Commerce – Posts | Facebook

And he has started a parallel online petition:

East Devon Cabinet decided to Increase Car Park charges by between 50% and 100%, this will mean extra costs for residents and hard working families and add further costs to the spiraling cost of living. It will also potentially have a devastating affect local businesses and reduce footfall. It will mean East Devon will have the highest car park charges for short stay users in the surrounding area, including, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall this is grossly unfair to the residents and businesses of East Devon .

Petition · Stop East Devon increasing Car Park charges by up to 100% · Change.org

To finish, at least to finish where we are now in this on-running debate, there have been letters to the Herald:

LETTER: ‘Leader’s columns stimulate debate – good!’ | Sidmouth Herald

Which the Leader of the District Council refers to in his latest column on the subject:

Long, long ago, in around May 2020, Mr Sunak promised that nobody supporting the national effort at a time of Covid would be financially disadvantaged. Therefore, when it came to covering the £1.6 million to keep LED afloat for the last two years of enforced closures, we felt it was underwritten. Maybe not. Mr Sunak did not write the cheque. He still hasn’t, and that gap in our finances is a threat to your services. With consummate irony, those councils who did not go the Tory route and “outsource” leisure services, but deliver them in-house, were paid at least 80% of their losses more than a year ago. Pick the bones out of that if you can.

One eager correspondent in particular, Mr Mike Goodman…

Paul Arnott: biggest headache is a broken financial promise | Sidmouth Herald

   
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