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Town faces 'disaster' over parking fees

PUBLISHED: 09:29 03 April 2008 | UPDATED: 10:27 12 July 2010

Harleston risks "sleepwalking into disaster" if free town parking is abolished, a retail chief warned this week.

John Wright, chairman of The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the town streets, still lined with independent retailers and their customers, depended on two small free car parks.

Harleston risks “sleepwalking into disaster” if free town parking is abolished, a retail chief warned this week.

John Wright, chairman of The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the town streets, still lined with independent retailers and their customers, depended on two small free car parks.

And the FSB has thrown its weight behind campaigners fighting the introduction of car parking charges at Harleston.

It believes market towns across the country are “in danger of extinction” if local authorities continue with current parking policies - which in south Norfolk could see free parking at public car parks in Harleston and Loddon abolished by the end of 2008.

South Norfolk Council's new Conservative administration - which inherited a £300,000 car park maintenance backlog - is also proposing to increase existing fees at Diss and Wymondham. However, this would be balanced by the offer of free parking for the first hour at all short term “shoppers” car parks in the district.

Mr Wright said it was time councillors listened to the communities they represent.

“The latest potential victim of bad policy making is the vibrant market town of Harleston and the surrounding community in south Norfolk. The streets of Harleston are still lined with independent retailers and their customers, most of who come from the surrounding villages and countryside, depend on two small free car parks,” he said.

“Plans by councillors to introduce parking charges in Harleston have been repeatedly opposed by local residents who have good evidence to support their argument that charging could jeopardise many local businesses. The loss of the UK's independent retailers has far reaching soci-economic and environmental implications for the whole community.

“In Harleston, as elsewhere, we risk sleepwalking into disaster.”

The FSB recently launched a national campaign to keep trade local, with a petition on the prime minister's 10 Downing Street website.

Mr Wright added: “As national chairman of the UK's biggest business organisation, I fully support the efforts of residents in Harleston and the surrounding community in opposing the imposition of parking charges.”

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon has written to council leader John Fuller to voice concerns, after a meeting on Friday with the Harleston and District Car Parks Group.

He suggests that a joint appraisal with the council should be undertaken before any final recommendations or decisions are taken, and that this could prove to be “a sensible way forward”.

The authority's Cabinet will debate the issue on Monday. If the proposals are adopted without change it will mean fees of up to £5 a day being imposed in Harleston, Loddon, Diss and Wymondham.

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