COUNCILLORS have dismissed calls to scrap short-stay town centre parking charges, claiming that the move would cost more than £1 million a year.
A petition signed by more than 400 people was submitted to the borough council demanding that visitors to the town centre be allowed to park free for between one and two hours.
The group behind the petition, including Conservative councillors, said that the move would “encourage people and businesses back into the town centre.”
But council officers urged Cabinet members Cllrs Richard Russell and Gerald Smith to ignore the petition, saying that allowing two hours’ free parking would cost about £1.1 million in lost parking revenue annually and damage efforts to encourage people to use public transport.
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Parking manager Martin Beard said that the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Transport Strategy required local authorities to support the use of public transport and discourage car use.
“A number of initiatives have already been introduced that are within the spirit of the strategy in that they maintain charges at peak hours when they are most needed to manage parking demand and encourage people to travel by car when demand is lower,” he said.
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Mr Beard added: “The free parking suggestion, if implemented, would undermine the viability of the public transport network in Rotherham and cost the council approximately £1.1 million in lost parking revenue.
“This figure is taken from the projected outturn figures for the 2009/10 financial year.
“There could also be a detrimental effect on jobs within parking services as workload and staffing requirements would need to be reassessed.
“A loss of income on this scale could not be contained within Streetpride’s budget–it would have a hugely detrimental impact on other services.”
The council recently introduced free parking all day on Saturdays to encourage more shoppers to visit the town centre at weekends, while parking is already free after 3pm every day.
Among those backing the petition was Cllr John Gilding, who said: “I would question
the £1.1 million mentioned in possible lost revenue—if this is a correct figure they must be making a hell of a lot of money out of the motorist because surely this must reflect the fact that parking after 3pm and all day Saturday is free.
“This only leaves 35 hours per week to grab the money.
“Slowly but surely the council is admitting, by the free parking strategy, that
Rotherham needs a shot in the arm to revive its fortunes and the nettle needs to be grasped and go for total free parking.
“You have got to speculate to accumulate.”
Jackie Whiteley, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Rotherham, also said that she was disappointed with the ruling.
She added: “The fundamental issue surely is the regeneration of Rotherham town centre, which if successful would replace the lost revenue from fines.
“Of course we want people to use public transport to come in to town, too, but it isn't always possible to do this, when you take into account age, disability, coming from further afield, etc.
Also, I don’t think it is more environmentally friendly to encourage people to drive all the way to Meadowhall or Parkgate where they do have extensive free parking.