Campaigners against car park price hikes in Aylesbury are ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’, according to a Conservative district councillor.
Judy Brandis made the comment during a debate last night after Labour’s Mark Bateman called for the increases – which are due to come into effect on September 1 and would see fees rise by up to 50% at the Exchange Street car park – to be scrapped.
The member for Southcourt told councillors at Aylesbury Vale District Council: “I have listened very carefully to my fellow citizens in Aylesbury. There’s considerable disquiet about this particular issue.”
He said Aylesbury suffers from residents choosing to shop at other local towns such as Milton Keynes and Wycombe.
“We have many empty shopping units. Charity shops, betting shops and estate agents now dominate. We have BrightHouse which has huge interest rates operating from a prime position in Hale Leys. It’s not the sort of place to attract people in to our town.”
He said the council’s planned improvements to the centre should attract more visitors but added: “I don’t want car parking charges to stall the vision the council has of developing Aylesbury. The timing is wrong. There is no evidence if you walk around Aylesbury, particularly on a Saturday morning, to suggest at all we have a thriving town.”
However, Janet Blake (Conservative), said Aylesbury is a ‘thriving place’. She said Exchange Street car park was in demand due to its central location and being on one level but there were other car parks people could go to.
“You have premium prices in all other walks of life – the theatre, trains, planes. This is simply managing demand.”
Tory Mark Winn accused Mr Bateman of ‘trying to scare people away from the town centre’. He said the main increase for people wanting to stay longer than an hour at Exchange Street was ‘just 50p’. He said the car park is nearly always full and that increasing the fee would encourage motorists to ‘spread out’ to other car parks which are not having their charges increased.
And he said council schemes including Waitrose and the theatre had boosted footfall in the town centre, which is ‘way over the national average’.
In a slight against Mr Winn, who once suggested foodbanks are for ‘those with drug, alcohol + mental health problems’, Steven Lambert (Liberal Democrat) said: “These are substantial increases for the working poor – especially if you’re visiting food banks.”
And Alison Harrison (Lib Dem) said she was concerned that increased evening rates at Exchange Street would hit part-timers working in the night-time economy.
The motion was defeated by the Conservative majority.
The changes mean a 30 minute stay at Exchange Street will rise from 50p to 80p. Up to an hour will increase from £1 to £1.50; three hours £2 to £2.50; four hours £3.50 to £4.
Charges for longer stays at Exchange Street have not changed and cinema users are still entitled to a refund from 6pm, Monday to Saturday, and anytime on Sunday.
At the Aqua Vale car park, a two-hour stay will cost £2 rather than £1, while four hours rises to £6 from £3 and 24 hours £10 from £6. However, people using Aqua Vale are entitled to a refund.
Hourly fees at other car parks have not changed, and nor has the cost of annual permits except for Walton Street.
However, the council is also putting up Sunday and public holiday charges across all its car parks from £1 to £1.50. It is scrapping the £1 evening charge at all its Aylesbury car parks, meaning day rates will apply up until 9pm, after which it will be free until 8am the next day.