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The tussle over car park charges

  • by JW

“Regeneration of the high street” [Malcolm Bell, chairman of Visit Cornwall] and “the towns that keep the businesses vibrant” [former East Devon Cllr Philip Skinner]

“The infrastructure simply doesn’t exist to support the number of visitors making the life of locals unpleasant in peak season.” [Daily Express]


Councils are asking locals to pay more for parking – whether in East Devon or in Surrey – where it inevitably gets political, as parties squabble over who’s best interest they’re looking after and the ensuing debate over how much to charge in town centre car parks gets under way.

One reason given for higher charges is “supporting the environment and helping to tackle climate change” – which has also become politicised of late – specifically to reduce pollution and carbon emissions in our town centres. A further reason to charge more for parking is to “help conservation efforts” of the green spaces popular with visitors – although not every tourist is happy about the charges.

In the South West, though, tourists are being asked to pay more for parking during the summer season – itself a way to tackle the increasing problem of ‘overtourism’. As reported in the Express last year:

The infrastructure simply doesn’t exist to support the number of visitors making the life of locals unpleasant in peak season, to say the least. Narrow lanes passing for roads and limited parking at some of the most popular sites in the county combine to create gridlock, pollution and litter.”

There is the inevitable backlash – for example last month the complaints by visitors about the ‘extortionate’ parking charges at the popular North Devon beach of Woolacombe. And now, as reported in the i-news over the weekend from the West Country, “summer car-parking charges see tourists pitted against locals as councils are blamed for the chaos”:

Tourists holidaying in the UK are facing higher parking charges this summer as councils increase prices – but businesses say they too are being hit hard. Malcolm Bell, chairman of Visit Cornwall, said: “The council sees it as a way of taxing tourists, but they’re also taxing local people and businesses. The government is always talking about the regeneration of the high street, but there’s a level where parking charges keep locals and tourists away. I think people do expect to pay for parking, but they’ll stay away if it’s considered too expensive and that doesn’t benefit anyone.”

Meanwhile in these parts, following a review earlier this year, the District Council decided that East Devon’s car parking charges will not be increasing in April. A lot of politicking was the background, but interestingly, the councillor who pushed for the freeze lost his seat in the following elections:

“As a Conservative group, we’ve got grave concerns about some of the car parking charges that have gone up, particularly in larger towns – Exmouth for example,” Cllr Philip Skinner said. “Ward members are telling me that car parking charges going up is having an impact on local businesses. And the same applies too for Sidmouth, and businesspeople in Sidmouth are really outraged that car parking charges have gone up as high as they have. So, it needs looking at, it certainly needs reviewing. We need to review that, we need to look at it, and I believe some of these car parking charges, especially in the towns that keep the businesses vibrant, need to be reduced.”

And yet the Sidmouth campaigner against the earlier rise in parking charges later gained a seat on the District Council.

So, yes, parking charges seem to be destined to always be politically charged – but there’s always an East Devon parking permit to be had…