Potential compromise in row over cuts to free parking in Babergh
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
A compromise on divisive plans to slash free parking in a Suffolk district is likely when a decision is made next month, council leaders have indicated.
Babergh District Council leader John Ward said that his cabinet would likely accept proposals to maintain an hour's free parking at most car parks in the district, instead of plans to reduce it from three hours down to just 30 minutes.
The admission came during a debate at the authority's full council meeting on Tuesday night, in which councillors were split on whether to back a petition signed by 1,300 people opposing original car park proposals.
The petition put forward by Stephen Laing called on the council to maintain free parking in all Hadleigh car parks and called for a decision to only take place after a full public consultation.
The vote on whether to back the petition was tied at 14 votes each for and against with two abstentions, with council chairman Kathryn Grandon's casting vote in favour of backing the petition, meaning it was narrowly approved.
However, that vote does not bind the council into having to hold a consultation, with the cabinet remaining the final decision maker at its meeting on February 4.
It comes a day after the council's scrutiny committee recommended that proposals be revised to maintain an hour's free parking, and not introduce changes before September 2021.
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Mr Ward said: "Overview and scrutiny recommended the delay to the third quarter [for implementation] and they thought a one hour free period, also suggested by the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, the Sudbury town centre manager and several Hadleigh town councillors last week would be more suitable.
"Having heard those views, cabinet is actually minded to agree. I hope that members accept these are reasonable."
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He added: "We are having to make difficult decisions to make sure our finances are secure in the medium term, and none are more difficult or contentious than this one."
A host of councillors raised concerns about the proposals, chief among them the impact it would have on businesses when they were attempting to recover from the Covid-19 fallout, as well as the lack of public consultation on the issue.
Hadleigh south councillor Mick Fraser said: "It's more essential than ever because we need to maintain the vitality of our high street," and said the petition "shows the strength of feeling on this issue".
Fellow Hadleigh south councillor Kathryn Grandon feared that once the principle of introducing fees had been introduced it would lead to future price hikes.
Cabinet will make a final decision on February 4.