Kirklees Council can press ahead with plans to impose parking charges in all the district’s 57 free car parks – and it could raise £2.6 million.

The Labour-run Cabinet pushed through the proposals to end free parking and raise existing charges in Huddersfield, Holmfirth and Dewsbury due to urgent financial pressures.

The council, which must save £47 million on its budget before February to avoid bankruptcy, had been accused by the Tory opposition of rushing through a potentially-damaging proposal with very little information.

The Tories challenged the decision and a ‘call-in’ was heard at the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Panel on Wednesday.

Councillors were critical of the lack of financial details and clarity in the report and were given more information at the meeting.

As a result, the panel decided not to refer the decision back to Cabinet and it is now free to be implemented.

Parking charges have not been increased in 14 years and the increase will rise with inflation – back-dated to 2009.

Parking in Huddersfield town centre will rise from 70p an hour to £1.10 per hour with all-day parking rising from £4 to £6.50.

In other towns and villages the cost will be 50p per hour and £6.50 all day. Free on-street parking will remain. The charges could be introduced in January 2024.

Councillors Mark Thompson (Con, Birstall) and Adam Gregg (Con, Lindley) told the panel that the original council report lacked financial detail, offered no reasoning or options and gave no evidence on the impact charges might have on town and village centres.

Clr Liz Smaje, chairman of scrutiny, was also critical at the time of the decision and issued a ‘notice of concern.’ Though some of her issues were addressed she felt not enough had been done to withdraw the notice.

She said there was still a lack of financial information and no economic impact assessment.

Under questioning from the panel more details did emerge, however.

Graham West, the council’s service director for highways and Streetscene, said it was “unprecedented” for any local authority to have 57 free car parks, and many councils were now reviewing whether they could continue to offer free parking.

He said the increased charges would bring in £2.6 million for the council but admitted under questioning that the estimates were based on only 21 car parks.

The council had already planned to replace 140 “end-of-life” parking machines in January and February and had a budget of £900,000 for new machines, signage and other infrastructure.

Not all car parks would get a machine, however. If there were two car parks close together one might have a machine while the other would allow tickets to be bought via a smart phone app. The app would have a small administration charge which would not be subsidised by the council.

Mr West said it was “too complex” to carry out an assessment of what impact parking charges may have on areas served by free car parks and that could only be analysed after a period of time. The council will review parking charges after 12 months.

The panel heard that many car parks served different purposes. In Almondbury, for example, a loss of parking spaces in the village meant that some residents were forced to park in the council car park as there was nowhere else.

Mr West said it was the council’s intention to encourage shoppers to visit local centres and a two-hour “sweet spot” allowed people to park up and visit local shops and businesses. Some car parks were clogged with commuters and workers so there was no turnover to benefit traders.

Councillors had also questioned whether more parking wardens – known as ‘civil enforcement officers’ – would be needed to enforce charges across the district.

Mr West said no extra staff would be needed and added: “We have reviewed the amount of civil enforcement officers and we are confident that, subject to a final number of car parks, that we have enough resource. At this time I am not looking to bring in any more CEOs.”

Announcing the panel’s decision to free the policy for implementation, panel chairman Clr Jo Lawson (Crosland Moor & Netherton) said if the proposal had come before a scrutiny panel before the decision it may not have been ‘called in.’

She added: “Within all future Cabinet reports the reasons for the decision, the financial implications and options considered should be included.

“The panel were satisfied with the level of financial details provided at today’s meeting and request this be included in future reports.

“The panel acknowledges the value and importance of pre-decision scrutiny which may have mitigated the need for a call-in. Whilst acknowledging the urgency of the decision every effort should be made in future to factor in pre-decision scrutiny.”