November 28, 2017
Free Highbridge parking plan labelled 'naive' in heated council debate

Proposals to introduce an hour's free parking and reduced-rate season tickets at a Highbridge car park sparked a heated debate at a town council meeting on Monday evening (November 27th).

As first reported here last week, a group of Lib Dem town councillors has put forward the plan.

But Cllr Andy Brewer, pictured above, said the plans were "a little naive" and Cllr Roger Keen, a Highbridge district councillor, said it was "a great shame" that the issue was being politicized.

Mike Murphy, Chairman of Highbridge Chamber of Trade, pictured below, told Monday's meeting: "However bright an idea one hour's free parking is, we are concerned that an application for free parking could mean the users of the other eleven car parks in the area would demand the same treatment, causing extra work and deep resentments."

Mr Murphy added that season tickets and parking leases "cannot simply be rolled out to everyone with all the accompanying admin costs of registration, issuing of permits, individual payments etc."

"Sedgemoor already offer all residents living within 200m of the Bank Street car park full all-year parking at £360 less discounts of 50%. Sedgemoor believes that while there is a plentiful supply of free parking, the people will not pay £360 or £180 to park. There are already spaces at Walrow terrace car park, the railway station, Coopers car park and at Southwell Crescent, Tyler Way, Newtown Road and now 21 spaces along Market Street."

"In my opinion, the problem is not the price of the car park but that we don't have enough shops and businesses in Highbridge to attract shoppers to fill it."

He told Cllr Harvey: "As Chair of the Neighbourhood Plan, you included the option for new retail shops and services and using part of the Bank Street Car park and part of the Town Green. What we need is a Highbridge town plan to do just that."

Cllr Roger Keen, a Highbridge district councillor, pictured below, also spoke out at the meeting: "It is a great shame that this topic of a public amenity was projected under a political emblem, thus immediately removing it from the goodwill of all-party discussion."

Mr Keen said the Brue Drainage Board has a parking lease for its staff in the Bank Street car park because it is a "precepting body" and he added: "This information could have been made available to Cllr Harvey had he chosen to enquire instead of embarrassing members of his own team."

But Cllr Phil Harvey, who is the local Lib Dem leader, pictured below, is adamant that his proposals would make the car park more useful to local residents, increase council revenue and help the town centre.

He said: "I am concerned at the low level of use in the Bank Street car park - there are often just 45 cars a day using it despite it having a much larger capacity."

"I initially considered a scheme that would operate like Morrisons used in Burnham where you'd get a rebate from the shop - you spend £10 and get a parking rebate. But that would mean reticketing the machines with new tickets - and one half of the ticket would go on show in the car and the other would be taken to the shops to be redeemed. But when I learned there's a minimum print run of 48,000 tickets, I realised that would be four years' supply and dropped the idea."

"So we looked at one hour's free parking - I don't accept the statement from Cllr McGinty, Sedgemoor's council leader, that the council's current parking policy is right for all car parks."

"The Bank Street car park is under-used, so why can't we make a season ticket available to the rail station users? It could be a one-off transaction with none of the administrative difficulties. It would improve the use of the car park and the viability of the rail station."

Cllr Andy Brewer responded: "I do thank Cllr Harvey for starting off the debate, but however nice an idea it is and very good in principal, some of this is a little naive. We need to be careful that we don't mislead residents. We need a full discussion with Sedgemoor to see what's possible."

But Cllr John Parkes said: "This is a chicken and egg situation. Highbridge is in dire need of regeneration. To rejuvenate Highbridge, surely we need parking? Providing parking at reduced or nil costs would be a big help."

Town councillors decided to hold talks with Sedgemoor District Council on the proposals, and reserve any decision until afterwards.

Cllr Mike Facey, who is chairman of the Town Council's Policy and Finance Committee, said that he wanted the council to pursue "joined-up thinking" and "not to rush into a decision overnight."

But Cllr Martin Cox said he would support a six-month trial of the proposals if Sedgemoor backs the scheme.


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