Kirklees Council is pressing ahead with plans to scrap free parking and raise charges in town centres amid fears it would threaten shops and small businesses.
The crisis-hit council, which must slash £47 million from its budget before February, announced the plans just a week ago, provoking outrage across the district.
The council says parking charges haven’t been increased since 2009 so rises will be back-dated in line with inflation.
A report to the council’s Cabinet was criticised for lacking financial details. There were no projections on how much the parking charges would bring in; how much it would cost to install parking meters and hire more parking wardens; or what economic impact the charges would have on towns and villages, many of which would lose their free parking.
At the start of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting it was announced that the council’s Scrutiny chairman, Clr Liz Smaje, had lodged a Notice of Concern, raising concerns over how the issue had been handled.
The council’s Scrutiny process is aimed at reviewing council decisions and holding senior councillors and officers to account.
Clr Smaje said there was a lack of financial analysis; a need for an economic viability assessment; and a lack of engagement with the public along with a lack of detail about the proposed consultation.
There was a lengthy debate with several members of the public urging the council to rethink the proposals.
Mayor of Meltham Clr Richard Noon said an extraordinary meeting of Meltham Town Council had been held over the impact on the village.
Clr Noon said the town council was disappointed it had not been consulted and criticised the Kirklees report for having no business case, revenue projections or information about costs.
He said deferring a decision was the “only legal and sound basis” on which the council could act.
Dean Worsnop, of Birstall Chamber of Trade, said traders in the village were struggling with the aftermath of Covid, the cost-of-living crisis and the impact of the war in Ukraine.
He said traders had already had to absorb costs to help customers and 10 businesses had shut down.
“It’s our hope the council will reconsider and not add another nail in our coffin,” he said.
Clr Mark Thompson (Con, Birstall) presented a 1,410-signature petition collected by Birstall traders in just a week. He said more financial information was needed.
Clr Adam Gregg (Con, Lindley) handed in a petition signed by 1,227 people from every ward in Kirklees. He urged the Cabinet to defer a decision and produce some more “in depth analysis.”
He added: “When I speak to residents they feel that the council is anti-car and anti-motorist.”
Liberal Democrat leader Clr John Lawson (Cleckheaton) said parking charges should be used as a tool to stimulate regeneration and not damage small businesses.
Imposing charges in towns like Cleckheaton could impact on staff working in retail and hospitality businesses. Charges could cost workers, who may only be on the minimum wage, an extra £900 a year. That might force them to take other jobs where it was free to park, meaning town centre businesses struggled to recruit and retain staff.
Tory leader Clr David Hall (Liversedge & Gomersal) said the report was being “rushed through” and added: “We are trying to persuade the public that this is a good thing to do.
“Surely there should be some kind of reasoning as to why it’s a good thing? But there’s actually no justification.
“You can’t blame the public for thinking the council needs more money and is coming after the motorist.”
Clr Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) said there was “no financial data” in the report and asked: “When will these car parking taxes break even?”
He added: “We need an impact assessment on the towns and villages. If these car parking taxes are detrimental, people will go elsewhere. Businesses will close, Kirklees will lose revenue and jobs will go.”
The Cabinet member responsible Clr Yusra Hussain, Cabinet member for culture and greener Kirklees, said detailed work had gone on in the background and “financial modelling has been undertaken.”
She said it was difficult to determine the economic impact of parking charges as there were several other factors involved. A “thorough audit” would take place with a review after 12 months.
She added: “We have not raised charges for over 14 years. It’s not a decision we have taken lightly. We have to look at charges across the borough and see what works and what doesn’t work.”
The council wants to introduce charges at free car parks in Almondbury, Golcar, Honley, Lindley, Lockwood, Marsden, Marsh, Meltham, Milnsbridge, Netherton, New Mill, Slaithwaite, Denby Dale, Emley, Kirkburton, Scissett, Shepley, Skelmanthorpe, Mirfield, Batley, Birstall, Ravensthorpe, Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton.
Parking charges in Huddersfield town centre will increase by around 60% from 70p an hour to £1.10 per hour. The cost of parking all day in Huddersfield town centre will rise from £4 to £6.50. Charges in Dewsbury will rise to 50p per hour and £6.50 all day.
The Cabinet unanimously voted to go ahead with statutory public consultation with a view to introducing the new charges in January 2024.