South Norfolk Council reject fresh car parking plea

The latest call to help traders and shoppers in south Norfolk with more free car parking in market towns has been rejected by district councillors.

An idea put forward by opposition Liberal Democrat councillors at South Norfolk Council to suspend parking fees in Diss, Wymondham and Loddon on Saturday afternoons as a way of generating footfall in the towns was thrown out at a meeting this week.

Conservative leaders called the suggestion 'absolutely laughable' against the fact that parking charges had first been introduced under a Lib Dem-controlled council.

The issue raised its head when the authority set its budget and a council tax freeze at a meeting on Monday.

Leader John Fuller said: 'We are living within our means and living within our means is very important in this current time as residents have to draw in their belts but it's meant we have been able to freeze council tax for the third time in four years.'

Opposition leader, Liberal Democrat Murray Gray, supported the freeze but offered alternative options in which the council's money could be invested, including using likely increases in interest rates to shelve market town parking fees on Saturday afternoons and reduce the financial burden on Harleston Town Council which already funds free parking for its residents and visitors.

At the moment drivers are able to park for one hour free before being charged. However, all fees will be dropped on April 29 to celebrate the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

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Figures obtained by the Mercury last year through a Freedom of Information request showed that South Norfolk Council received more than �240,000 in charges and fines from it car parks between April 2009 and April 2010, but spent only �99,000 on car park maintenance and resurfacing.

Dr Gray said: 'The speculation is that interest rates will start to rise later this year and should bring in additional unbudgeted interest income. Our proposal would be to use this income, as and when it is quantifiable, to increase free parking in our market towns in order to give a much needed stimulus to their economies.'

But Glyn Walden, councillor for Diss, said many visitors to the town found the current pricing system 'fair'.

'I conducted a survey in the town and 72pc of people in the town supported the present car parking regime. Only three people said they were dissatisfied,' he said.

Following the meeting, Jenna Cox, spokesman for the Diss Business Forum, said the group would be conducting its own survey to see how the charges are affecting it members.

'Free parking frankly is always a good thing in my estimation. One hour free parking means nothing. People run in, they run out, they do not have time to enjoy the town and see what it has to offer,' she added.

'I think everyone realises there is a maintenance charge so there has to be some kind of structure to make some money but if other towns can have free parking for longer periods of time, surely there must be a way for Diss to do the same.'