Council votes to reform how residents and users pay for car parks

Breckland Council votes to reform how residents and users pay for car parks

A proposal to reform the way public car parking is paid for has been approved by Breckland Council's Cabinet at their 15 July 2024 meeting. 

The Council, which owns 30 car parks across the district, currently covers the significant maintenance and operating costs through existing budgets, meaning that everyone in the district - regardless of whether they use the facilities - pays for this service.  However, like most councils across the country, Breckland is facing budget pressures which are forcing it to take a fresh look at its services and how they are funded. 

Introducing parking tariffs similar to those already charged in most other Norfolk market towns - is one of the key recommendations from an independent report and feasibility study commissioned by the Council to help it consider alternative management options.  The report's key findings were that the Council's car parks represented a significant financial cost - around £450k per year - to its budgets without delivering an effective service, suggesting instead that car parking costs should be funded by those who benefit directly from using them.   

The new system will see charges similar to, or more affordable than, comparable market towns. Each market town will have one car park offering the first hour's parking for free, with tariffs between 50p and £1 for the first chargeable hour across the district.  Not only will this help cover the running costs of providing car parking facilities across the district, it would also encourage a more regular turnover of parking spaces, making it easier for everyone to park.    And with more available spaces, and greater footfall, the Council believes this not only will create more potential trade for local businesses, but also protect budget allocations for more vulnerable residents at the same time. 

Following  approval at Monday's Cabinet meeting, a period of public consultation will  follow in the Autumn, giving members of the public the opportunity to feed back on the proposals for each market town. 

Cllr Paul Hewett, Breckland Council's Executive Member for Property, Projects, and Procurement commented: "This was not an easy decision for my Cabinet Colleagues and I to make, but, like most councils, we are facing budget pressures which are forcing us to take a fresh look at our services and how they are funded. In the case of our car parks, introducing a paid parking system - funded by those who benefit most from it - is the fairest, and most affordable way to do this.  

"From the outset we have worked to ensure that this proposal is transparent and that the evidence this proposal is based upon is easily available.  

"With that in mind, on Thursday last week we proactively brought this proposal to our Overview and Scrutiny Commission where members from across the political spectrum were able to scrutinise the proposal and hear more from our expert consultants on their study and recommendations.  

"This was a really constructive session and provided an opportunity for more information to be shared about the cost-neutral nature of the model; why we are moving forward with this approach now; alternative options that have been explored; and what we intend to do to minimise any potential impact on residents, businesses, shoppers, visitors and town centre workers.  

"From comments already received by me and my colleagues, it is evident that there is quite a lot of misinformation being communicated, either in error, or deliberately. This is an important issue for our residents, businesses and taxpayers, with implications that affect everyone now and in the future.   

"Whether a resident, a business, or a community leader, we owe it to those who we represent to communicate all information, whatever our personal views, to ensure that we are all aware of the implications of this decision as we move towards a period of public consultation.  As part of this we have already agreed to bring details of the consultation to our next Overview and Scrutiny meeting in September, with the consultation scheduled to launch in October."  

If you would like to read the report that was presented to Breckland's Cabinet, you can find it here. 

We understand that you also may have some questions on this new approach.  We have prepared some frequently asked questions to help provide some clarity.  Please check back regularly as these will evolve and develop as we move forward.

FAQ

1) Why are you considering introducing charging?

The Council is putting forward this recommendation to ensure that council services valued by residents and businesses are not negatively impacted by the cost of public car parking provision. This action also aims to increase the churn of parking in town centre car parks to enable greater footfall to support businesses and ensure the car parks are primarily used to support the delivery of our thriving market towns. This activity follows on from the Council's successful enforcement trials in Attleborough and Swaffham.

2) Is this a money-making scheme?

The Council's budget, which the taxpayer funds, currently pays approximately £450,000 a year for your car parks, so this service has never been free. The Council has reached a point where it needs to consider whether to continue to fund car parking provision (a service that users expect to pay for at the point of use) or to jeopardise funding for vital services and important community projects. The tariffs have been designed at a minimal rate so that the money generated by charging for parking covers the operating cost of this service and any up-front enabling works.

3) Will this negatively impact the high street businesses?

Across Norfolk, market towns with public car parking charges are thriving. Parking charges will not negatively impact our high streets; instead, they will ensure parking turnover, or 'churn', that will bolster trade on our high streets, helping our market town businesses to thrive.

4) When will charging commence?

The new car parking management model is planned to commence later in 2025. However, the Council will be able to provide an exact implementation date once further planning and design work has been completed. In the coming months, there will be a four-week public consultation into the delivery mechanism for each car park.

5) Will residents and businesses have an opportunity to comment on these proposals?

Before implementation, there will be a four-week public consultation period on the new model's delivery mechanism. Residents and businesses will be invited to participate.

6) Will this encourage existing users to park on the street?

Having implemented an enforcement model in two of our market towns, the evidence gathered suggests that vehicle displacement is short-lived. We expect user behaviour to adapt to the new operating model after a short bedding-in period. The Council will also work with the County Council's highways department to monitor the impact of the expected short-term natural displacement of vehicles.

7) Why is it more expensive to park in some market towns than others?

As with all other local authorities, parking charges are calculated to reflect the size and offering of each town; our consultants, who are subject matter experts, have reviewed each of the Council's market towns against a pool of similar market towns across the county whilst also considering localised information to produce a fair and consistent tariff rate for each town.

8)  Have you considered any free periods or concessions?

Yes, there will be one car park in each town that will have an hour free period every day. This will be extended to three hours on market days, and there will be concession days across each town to support public events.

9) Why can't all the Council's car parks have a free period?

Our extensive car park surveys, feasibility work, and financial assessment have driven the principles of a new operating model. On the suggested tariffs, there would not be enough revenue to cover the costs if every car park had a free period.

10)  Why haven't you considered time-limited enforcement rather than charging

Over the last few years, we have worked with enforcement providers to deliver time-limited enforcement in some of the car parks in two of our market towns (Attleborough and Swaffham). Expanding this enforcement activity would indeed increase churn and greater availability of parking spaces; however, it would also significantly increase the Council's existing financial burden. Following an initial investment in enabling works, the income generated from parking charges will cover the costs of car park operations moving forward, meaning that this service is protected, sustainable and standing on its own two feet.

11) Will the payment options be easy to use?

The payment systems will be modern, comply with equality standards, and be easy to use with the proposed contactless tap-in and tap-out system. The Council aims for the experience to be quick, easy to use and forgettable for users.

12)  Why will some car parks be designated as short stay?

All towns will have long-stay provisions, and some sites will be designated short-stay to help manage churn. The time restrictions at these short-stay sites are based on evidence that they will improve churn and, therefore, footfall into the town centres, which will support trade. Research has shown that users prioritise finding a suitable parking space rather than paying for parking, and these stay restrictions will support this.

13) Have the Council considered a permit system?

As part of the next stage of this activity, detailed work will be undertaken to develop a permit system in a fair way that serves the needs of each town. This will be communicated to residents and businesses in due course.

14)  Will there be any disruption in the car parks?

Installation work will be minimal, and disruption will be reduced to a bare minimum where possible. Small periods of disruption may be required at sites where improvement work is identified to benefit the customer experience, which will be communicated to its users.

15)  What about users who want to pay with cash?

The easiest and most accessible payment method will be contactless at the on-site terminals. Local retail outlets with Pay Point systems can also accept cash payments for parking services for those who rely on cash to pay for goods and services. The recent enforcement trials have shown that these on-site units can be widely adopted, and data from the feasibility study shows that parking services across the country are adopting cashless models.

Last updated: 18/07/2024 14:18:48