'We have listened and learned': Havering Council in car parking charges 'U-turn'
PUBLISHED: 15:30 05 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:16 05 February 2020
Havering Council is reducing its car parking charges in a bid to boost the borough's high streets - but opposition councillors have labelled the move a U-turn.
The proposed cuts to parking charges across the borough will go before the council's cabinet next week ahead of a full council meeting to agree the borough's budget for the next financial year.
Havering Council has announced "significant investment worth millions" to help the borough's businesses tackle the challenges of changing shopping habits and online competition.
But what could be changing?
- Thirty minute free car parking in more than 1000 on-street pay and display bays across the borough from 1st April.
- A 20 per cent discount on all parking charges paid by residents of the borough, using a new Havering car parking app, set to launch May 1.
- From April 1, free Sunday car parking
- Free parking for specified hours in the car parks of New Windmill Hall, Cottons Park and Lodge Farm Parks be free between Monday to Friday for 3 hours parking and no return, within 2 hours.
- Saturdays will be free for five hours parking and no return, within 2 hours. Sundays free parking all day, with no maximum stay limit from April 1.
The decisions are subject to agreement at cabinet on February 12 and council on February 26.
If agreed at the council's cabinet and full council meetings, the new changes will take place in the next few months.
The news comes after several businesses in Hornchurch and Upminster claimed to be suffering a huge decrease in custom after the loss of 30 minutes' free parking.
Swan Books, an 83-year-old business in Corbets Tey Road, Upminster, closed its doors for the last time on January 18.
Before it closed, a notice erected in the shop's window blasted "the reckless changes to the parking charges imposed last year" by Havering Council.
The council has also announced it will also embark on further engagement with businesses to work together on finding solutions to the change in the high streets.
This will include working with Hornchurch businesses on the possibility of new parking bays to take advantage of 30 minutes free parking.
According to Havering Council, this follows the free parking on Sundays which was brought in for Christmas, which saw an increase to footfall on those days.
The council says that increased investment from central government, a cash boost from improved waste management and a better than expected surplus from parking fees will help to provide the investment necessary to address concerns about parking charges.
Since the first free half an hour in all car parks was raised to £1.50 minimum charge across the borough in June, there have been persistent protests, with residents claiming that the newly imposed charges are responsible for the closing of high street shops.
Havering Council Leader Councillor Damian White said: "I know there has been some frustration about our car parking policies, which were implemented a year ago.
"We have listened and learned to what shoppers and traders have said and we have developed an affordable solution which gives shoppers a good deal and encourages them back to our high streets."
He added: "We now have bigger issues to solve together than parking.
"Our high streets are changing and we need to make sure they change in a way that's right for Havering.
"Our challenge to everyone is to use them.
"We will do more to promote our fantastic high street shops and services. By bus, bike, foot or car we'll show everyone that they're worth a visit.
"It will be up to residents to use them rather than out-of-town or internet shopping."
Reacting to the news, Upminster and Cranham Residents Group councillor Ron Ower told the Recorder the council's decision was "obviously a U-turn".
He said: "In Upminster we've had to fight a really hard campaign against the loss of the free 30 minutes, and it has resulted in a massive loss of business for some.
"We held a meeting with a council officer this week which focused on how we could begin to regenerate Upminster as a shopping centre and parking came up as one of the most important issues.
"I know of one businesses that is losing £1,000 a week since the loss of free parking.
"Obviously we welcome these changes, it sounds like we've won, but we just wish the Conservatives at Havering Council had listened to us sooner.
"We still need time to analyse these proposals in greater detail and we are still concerned that the free parking does not fully extend to car parks like it did before."
And the leader of Havering Council's Labour group, Cllr Keith Darvill, said he too was not impressed by the proposals.
"It's all a bit of smoke and mirrors," he told the Recorder.
"There are referrals to a 1000 places with reduced parking charges but we don't know where they are.
"In my view it's typical of the administration just to look like they are doing something without providing the details on the impact the charges are already having on businesses.
"I think it's an exercise in minimising the tremendous anger about parking charges from people Hornchurch and Upminster."
The leader of Havering Council's Residents' Group, the largest opposition party at Havering Town Hall, also labelled the announcement "smoke and mirrors".
Cllr Ray Morgon told the Recorder: "It is vital that we support our high streets, but it is unfortunate that Damian did not consider it that important last year.
"Havering Council could have kept free parking in Hornchurch and Upminster but the Conservative administration rejected our alternative budget, which would have paid for it by reducing the amount spent on comms, corporate events and three newly-introduced cabinet support officers.
"We welcome this news and it is definitely a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough and we will once again be introducing a similar alternative budget along the same lines as last year."