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What has the reaction been to car parking charges going up in Bury St Edmunds?

PUBLISHED: 07:30 14 February 2020 | UPDATED: 12:24 14 February 2020

The Arc surface car park in Bury St Edmunds Picture: MARIAM GHAEMI

The Arc surface car park in Bury St Edmunds Picture: MARIAM GHAEMI

MARIAM GHAEMI

Angry residents in Bury St Edmunds have said they are being 'priced out of shopping in our own town' after the council decided to increase parking charges.

West Suffolk Council is facing a wave of negative public opinion for agreeing to hike many tariffs - some by as much as 50% - at its car parks in the historic market town.

READ MORE: Expect to pay more for parking in Bury St Edmunds - but it's still free from 3pm on Tuesdays

On social media many residents and business owners slammed the decision, with some accusing the council of being "greedy" and expressing concern over the impact on the town centre.

At the council's cabinet meeting on February 11 councillor Peter Stevens, cabinet member with responsibility for car parks, described the increases to charges - that will come into force in April - as "modest" and said the council supports the town in many different ways.

On Facebook with our story on the meeting one person said: "It will make sure the wealthy tourists have plenty of places to park. Just a shame we're being priced out of shopping in our town having been priced out by a body of people who are supposed to represent the interests of the people they are supposed to serve, but I guess we are now serving them."

Another said they would rather drive miles out of town to other towns than pay the extra to park in Bury.

One person described the new £4 charge for all-day parking at some locations as "daylight robbery and a sure fire way to kill the town centre for good".

But another said they were "all for" anything that reduces the ever-increasing traffic that brings Bury to gridlock at the A14 access points.

READ MORE: 'We are on the precipice' - business leader slams council over proposed parking charges

Cabinet members did decide to keep the Free from 3pm scheme on Tuesdays and the night charge (£1 after 6pm) will remain, rather than extending the day tariff to 8pm.

James Sheen, who runs the We Love Bury St Edmunds Facebook group Picture: GREGG BROWNJames Sheen, who runs the We Love Bury St Edmunds Facebook group Picture: GREGG BROWN

Speaking to us, business owner Mike Simmonite, of Gastrono-me cafe in Abbeygate Street, said: "When you have car parking going up and nothing really being given in return other than it's not as punitive as you first thought, that's not a win. We still lose out, our staff still lose out, and it will have an impact. Essentially unless you actually live within the town as an employee you have got to drive in."

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He said trade currently "feels more like a fight than running a business".

He added: "It does to a certain degree feel like you are fighting against people who are meant to be there to offer you support. As a business you need to feel you are being supported by your local council."

The Gastrono-me premises in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: GASTRONO-METhe Gastrono-me premises in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: GASTRONO-ME

READ MORE: 'We should do everything we can to protect our high street' - Labour group on proposed parking charges

James Sheen, behind the 'We Love Bury St Edmunds!' Facebook group, launched a petition calling for two days free parking in response to the plans, but his proposal was not accepted as it was deemed too expensive.

He said: "I didn't expect them to go for it, but I wanted them to listen to the fact people were very concerned about the whole thing, and are still concerned about it."

He described he decision to increase charges as "unbelievable" and "short-sighted".

"I think it's quite disgusting and just shows they are out of touch with reality," he said.

READ MORE: Cash from town centre car parking falls by £400,000 in a year

Mr Stevens said in Bury nearly all of the council's 4,000 town centre parking spaces are full come Saturday lunchtimes.

"In other words, people are still using our car parks and coming to our towns. It is not just the price of parking that attracts people to a town centre, it is the things that the town centre has to offer including its mix of retail, cafes, restaurants, leisure and culture, heritage, markets and events including those run by the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)."

Mr Stevens said the income generated from car parks went back into town centre services to ensure they are clean and safe places and paid for running the car parks.

The council has announced it is holding a town centre summit to look for solutions to the struggling high street, but Mark Cordell, chief executive of the BID in Bury, said he was "concerned" it was more of a "cosmetic exercise".

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