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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Controversial plans to abolish free parking in Kirklees and increase costs are expected to come into force from January

Controversial plans to abolish free parking in Kirklees and increase costs are expected to come into force from January, as the council’s cabinet has given the green light.

Last week, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) reported that a cabinet document revealed the proposals that would see parking costs in Huddersfield town centre rise from 70p to £1.10 per hour, and from 5p to 50p per hour outside of Huddersfield. Across the whole of Kirklees, all-day parking would increase by over 60% from £4 to £6.50, and fees will be brought in at car parks that are currently free.

The council hasn’t increased its prices for 14 years and says this move is necessary due to its financial position and the need to make a £47m saving before the financial year is out. However, such plans have proved hugely unpopular with both councillors and members of the public, some of whom attended a cabinet meeting yesterday (14 November).

At the meeting, the report came under fire for a lack of information relating to the costs involved in the plans and the impact this will have on towns and villages. On top of this, fears were expressed for the survival of small businesses.

As the item was opened, the meeting was told that the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, Cllr Elizabeth Smaje, had submitted a Notice of Concern which took issue with several elements of the proposals. Despite the concerns relating to a lack of public engagement, lack of detail around finances and timescales for consultation, among others, it had been decided that the item could still go ahead.

One speaker at the meeting was the Town Mayor of Meltham, Cllr Richard Noon, who urged the council to defer the decision until later next year and stated that this was the only “legally sound basis” upon which the council could act. He also expressed disappointment in the council’s lack of engagement with town and parish councils.

Dean Worsnop, a trader in Birstall and member of the Chamber of Trade also attended the meeting and said that small business owners were still dealing with the fallout from major issues like the pandemic and cost of living crisis. He said: “Birstall has already lost 10 long-standing businesses due to poor trade and neverending rising costs. This kind of downturn could spell the end for some.

“…It is our hope that the council will reconsider these plans, continue to support small business in Birstall and across Kirklees and not add another nail in our coffin.”

A petition to save Birstall shops and stop the introduction of parking charges was presented by Cllr Mark Thompson (Con, Birstall and Birkenshaw) with 1,410 signatures. A separate petition was brought to the meeting by Cllr Adam Gregg (Con, Lindley) with 1,227 signatures across all Kirklees wards wishing to save free parking and oppose the price increase. Cllr Gregg also urged the council to defer the decision and undertake a more in-depth analysis.

Leader of the Lib Dem group, Cllr John Lawson, said that car parking should be used as a “tool to stimulate regeneration” and that the proposals could cause problems for businesses in Cleckheaton. He said that staff who earn the minimum wage could find themselves having to pay an extra £900 per year on parking fees, prompting them to find work elsewhere.

Leader of Kirklees’ Conservatives, Cllr David Hall, felt that the plans had been “rushed through”. He said that if the council is trying to persuade the council that the fee increases are a good thing to do, there should be some kind of reasoning in the report as to why this is.

One of the aims behind the council’s proposals is to reduce the demand for parking and support people in using active travel but Cllr Martyn Bolt said that there wasn’t sufficient infrastructure to allow people to get out of their cars and switch to more sustainable methods of transport. Earlier in the meeting, Cllr Charles Greaves had also criticised the plans for focusing on “promoting the Mayor’s sustainable transport strategy” at a time when the council’s budget is “collapsing”.

Cllr Yusra Hussain, Cabinet Member for Culture and Greener Kirklees said that there will be a period of consultation and that a “thorough audit” will be carried out over the next 12 months. She told the meeting that “evidence-based” changes would be made as required and that she was satisfied the cabinet had enough information to make a decision.

She added: “We haven’t raised our Kirklees parking charges for over 14 years and it’s not a decision that has been taken lightly and I cannot stress that enough. We have to look at parking charges across the borough to see what works and what doesn’t work and that is where that audit comes into place.

Cabinet approved the proposals and the new charges are expected to come in place from January.

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