Car parking charges to rise to help meet costs of town centre services

The first parking tariff increases in five years are to come in next month to help pay for important town centre services.

West Suffolk Council has suspended the tariff changes since April 2020 but with the lifting of restrictions on 17 May to support the reopening of leisure and hospitality alongside retail and the need for income to pay for town centre services, the new charges will now come into effect from 5 July.

Cllr Peter Stevens, Cabinet Member for Operations at the Council said: “These are the first increases in five years, and in some of our Newmarket car parks, they are the first in nine years. This is despite rising costs associated with maintaining and running car parks including resurfacing costs, and around £1m per year in Business Rates that the Council pays. We also have plans to invest further in parking infrastructure including more electric charging points and better signage.”

The changes which aren’t just about tariffs increases, were agreed following an extensive review of car parking in late 2019 and early 2020. The Council suspended implementing them and has been working to support local partners including Business Improvement Districts and town councils in their plans for town centre economic recovery. We have also used this time to upgrade All Saints and Grosvenor Yard Car Parks in Newmarket, provide parking machines in Moreton Hall and Brandon, and have supported the MHCLG free permit scheme for health and care workers.

Ram Meadow Carpark – West Suffolk Council

In Newmarket the use of town centre car parks has already returned to levels close to what they were in 2019 with Haverhill not far behind. In Bury St Edmunds meanwhile, the Bury St Edmunds BID has reported footfall nearly up to pre-pandemic levels and new businesses have been quick to fill many of the empty units.

Cllr Susan Glossop, West Suffolk’s Cabinet Member for Growth, said: “While we anticipate that some of the challenges that retail faced before the pandemic around changing shopping habits will continue, we have confidence in the future of our town centres as places of economic, social, leisure and cultural activity and we have invested in them and that future. We are working with our local partners to support their work to ensure the recovery of our town centres continues. And we will continue to play an active role in supporting our town centres through our everyday work, not just through the recovery phase, but beyond.”

The tariff structure supports the local economy by helping manage and meet parking demand for workers and visitors including the turnover of spaces. Some of the changes, such as long-stay use at Parkway Multistorey in Bury St Edmunds, have been brought in following engagement with business representatives and car park users. Parking income also helps to pay for town centre services such as CCTV and street cleaning.

Cllr Sarah Broughton, Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance said: “The Council doesn’t make profit – it funds services. Despite financial support from Government there has been a £1.36m impact on West Suffolk Council’s finances as a result of the pandemic which puts very real pressure and challenges on the continued delivery of services to our communities, including our town centres.

“West Suffolk Council receives around 10 per cent of the council tax bill and council tax only represents a fifth of the income the Council requires to deliver its services.

Much of the rest comes through investments, fees and charges such as car parking, so this will help us to maintain our services which will play a big part in the continuing town centre recovery.”

Wil Bryant, chairman of Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District, said: “The BID has worked closely with West Suffolk Council since the onset of COVID and are extremely appreciative with how quickly they administered Government financial support to ensure this money reached our members as soon as possible. The Council had planned to increase car parking costs earlier. We worked with the Council, campaigning on our businesses behalf to get the rises put back as long as possible to allow businesses the time to reopen after an extremely tough year. We at the BID recognise that delaying these increases, to support businesses, have impacted on Council revenues, and while we would clearly prefer for the prices to be going in the opposite direction, we do appreciate the Council’s position.”