Campaigners have accused North Yorkshire County Council of wanting a “tax on motorists” by proposing to introduce Sunday parking charges in Harrogate town centre.
Last week, the county council presented new evidence from parking surveys suggesting that occupancy of spaces across town centre streets on Sundays was very high.
The county council said this evidence showed a “greater turnover of premium parking spaces” was needed and could be achieved by charging for both on and off-street parking.
However, campaigners including Coun David Simister (Bilton & Nidd Gorge) have refuted this conclusion and accused the county council of having a purely financial motive for their proposal.
"It's always about money"
He said: “This has never been about freeing up parking spaces but rather about revenue generation and imposing a tax on those choosing to come to Harrogate on a Sunday by car.
“I don’t think the report merits a second glance. Instead of helping bring people in to the town centre, the charges will do exactly the opposite. It’s always about money.”
A freedom of information request from the Harrogate Advertiser revealed that the county council collected more than £1.7m from parking charges in Harrogate in 2015/16.
This figure was the highest across North Yorkshire County Council’s seven boroughs and almost £700,000 more than Scarborough, the only other borough to generate a seven-figure sum.
Despite Harrogate generating more than 57 per cent of the county council’s overall parking charges income, Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for Highways, insisted the proposals were based purely on traffic management grounds.
He said: “The data clearly shows and reinforces the fact that town centre car parking spots are nearly all occupied for most of the day. They are parking for longer than they would normally because it’s free.
“This proposal is to improve the turnover of premium parking spaces. My initial view is that the evidence confirms that we want to be encouraging better turnover of premium parking spaces on a Sunday.”
County council's evidence
Coun Mackenzie said the evidence was “very clear” that motorists are staying for long periods of time on premium town centre streets including Cheltenham Crescent, Oxford Street and Princes Street.
From Monday to Saturday, when parking charges apply, motorists are able to park on these “short stay” streets for a maximum of 40 minutes, 40 minutes and 20 minutes respectively.
However, the county council’s evidence showed that, of the 50 per cent of vehicles that did overstay on a Sunday, this was for 20 minutes on Cheltenham Crescent and Oxford Street and 40 minutes on Princes Street.
On streets normally offering a three-hour maximum stay - James Street, Montpellier Hill and Princes Square - only an average of 18 per cent of cars overstayed this period.
The county council said the overstay period in these streets was for “at least” 15 minutes.
On James Street, the county council found that 17 per cent of cars parked the majority of the day, but in the other five streets surveyed this figures was lower than 10 per cent.
Coun Mackenzie defended this by explaining most motorists don’t use the maximum parking time during the week and insisted that charges would encourage a greater turnover of spaces.
He said: “If you are shopping for more than three hours then that is a very long time. What about the people that are just hopping in for an hour?
“During the week, the amount of people parking in the town centre for a maximum of three hours is relatively low and the average length of parking is far shorter.
“Motorists are staying for long periods of time clogging up premium short-stay spaces when there is plenty of room in off-street car parks.”
Case for car parks
The evidence showed that only the Odeon car park surpassed 80 per cent occupancy on a Sunday, with the Victoria and Montpellier car parks never more than 60 per cent full.
However, instead of “forcing” motorists to use off-street car parking through charges, Visit Harrogate director Mike Newby said the county council should be offering more incentives.
He said: “If you make off street car parking a bit more competitive with on street parking then it will encourage people to park there.
“This is something that needs to be looked at and not forcing people to have to park in the car parks. We need a bit more carrot and a bit less stick.”
Coun Simister added: “They could introduce free parking for the first hour at the car parks but they won’t because that doesn’t generate money.”
Mr Newby also admitted that, while there may be an argument that motorists need help finding parking spaces on a Sunday, he was not convinced charges were the answer.
He said: “We don’t want to encourage things that make people think twice about coming into the town centre. We don’t want to be known as somewhere that charges for parking as it will discourage visitors.”
To view the county council’s report visit http://www.northyorks.gov.uk/parkingreview and to sign the petition against parking charges visit www.hgsaysyes.com