Drivers to be hit by higher parking costs in town centres

Published: Thu Aug 21 2008

In a move accused by some of being yet another ‘stealth tax’, the government wants local councils to charge motorists more to park in town centres. This move comes on top of council tax increases and soaring petrol prices, and critics claim that excessive parking charges will have a negative impact on town centres, as people will be discouraged from using the high street and thus small businesses will suffer from the reduction of passing trade. Furthermore, city centres are in competition with larger retail outlets outside the city, where parking is free.

The local government minister John Healey, who is proposing the increases, said that local councils should charge more for off-street parking, notwithstanding the fact that inflation-busting council tax rises have already hit many areas of the country. His proposal comes on the back of the government’s plans to carry out a series of trials for a national road pricing scheme, which could result in drivers paying £1.30 during peak hours.

Although council tax bills have soared in the past decade, councils raked in £12.6 billion from additional fees in 2007-8, more than double the amount in 1997-98 when Labour came to power. A large chunk of this has come from higher parking charges and from use of leisure centres.

The government’s claim that charging more for parking in town centres could help protect small shops by encouraging people to walk to their local stores has been questioned by small business groups, who claim that the opposite is in fact the case. The national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said that the practice of local authorities using excessive parking charges as a means of raising council revenues is killing town centres. The shadow local government spokesman, Eric Pickles, also came down hard on the proposal, saying that Labour was "clobbering the public with another Gordon Brown stealth tax" on top of the already high rises in council tax over the past decade.

However council leaders backed Mr Healey’s call for councils to charge more for local services. While council parking fines are determined by the government, town halls can charge what they want for car parks and on-street parking.

As motorists find themselves increasingly hard hit in all directions, including rising fuel costs, an increase in the cost of a tax disc, and increased towing, a rise in parking charges will come as a heavy blow. For those who drive into London on a regular basis, their best option would be to secure a parking contract or seasonal parking spot through private parking companies, as this will afford them both peace of mind and a fixed parking charge for the period of time they require.

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