Parking back on the agenda for Babergh as it seeks to balance books

Options could be discussed with town and parish councils.

‘An increasingly difficult challenge’ – parking is back on the agenda for Babergh District Council, as it seeks to balance the books, support its high streets, and put the brakes on climate change.

Subsidising the councils’ current three-hour free parking in its car parks in villages and towns including Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham, cost the council approximately £425K this year, with the cost set to increase further next year. With the council facing a budget gap of at least £1.5m next year, it says it can no longer afford the subsidy if it is to continue delivering other essential services for its residents and communities.

A paper is now expected to go to Babergh cabinet in January recommending a targeted consultation with affected towns and parishes to develop options for changes to parking tariffs next year.

Babergh leader Cllr David Busby said: “Like all local authorities, we are facing tough financial decisions for the year ahead and find ourselves facing an increasingly difficult challenge.

“We need to balance our books; we need to support our high streets and town centre businesses by encouraging trade; and we need to encourage more sustainable travel in order reduce congestion in our towns, improve air quality and tackle climate change.

“Thankfully, these things are not mutually exclusive.  By introducing a revised tariff that includes short-term charges that are as low as possible compared to other authorities, we can continue to attract visitors to our towns and by working together with our towns and parishes, ensure shoppers and workers have access to the right spaces in the right places – increasing space turnover and offering more sustainable travel options, particularly for those simply ‘popping in’ to the high street.”

The new tariff would remove the burden of subsidising current ‘free’ parking to taxpayers, including non-motorists, as well as helping to balance the budget and generating income ringfenced for reinvestment into parking and sustainable travel options for the district.

“This will allow us to invest in our car parks to create a positive first and last impression of towns and villages for visitors, as well as being in a position to do more to promote and encourage sustainable travel,” Cllr Busby added.

The introduction of short-term parking charges was initially agreed in February 2021, with implementation initially delayed until January 2022, and then further postponed following a cabinet reshuffle, before this year’s local election and the inauguration of the new administration.

A new joint parking strategy for both Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils has been agreed since, in September 2022, based on feedback from residents, town and parish councils as well as other community groups and partners.  As part of the strategy consultation, some 58% of respondents said they supported, or strongly supported the introduction of flexible parking tariffs, particularly if regularly benchmarked to reflect the economy of the local area.

The charges would only apply to council-run car parks, with existing on-street parking remaining unchanged and blue badge holders still able to park in the council’s car parks for free. Babergh District Council also continues to work with Suffolk County Council, as the highways authority, to prioritise blue badge parking for anyone who is mobility impaired next to main amenities within its town and village centres.

Pending approval of the proposed approach at Babergh cabinet meeting on Tuesday 9 January, officers will meet with town and parish councils to discuss local options early in the New Year, ahead of a further report going back to cabinet in April.  Meanwhile, councillors on the Overview and Scrutiny committee will also consider the proposed approach alongside wider draft budget proposals in the New Year.

A car park machine in Sudbury.