Council could end free parking in Hemel, Berkhamsted, Tring and Kings Langley to help beat inflation
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Dacorum Borough Council is considering the shake-up to create a more “equitable” car parking policy in its area – and raise £2.9million by 2026/27.
In addition to an end to free stays, the authority is considering a hike to all off-street parking tariffs by 40p, which could boost income to council coffers by around 25 per cent.
On-street parking could also be standardised across Dacorum – with a £2 an hour charge introduced on roadsides where paid-for parking is in place.
Council staff said in recent years, parking tariffs have increased once per four-year election cycle, with the last rise in 2019.
Inflation since then has caused prices and maintenance costs to rise between 20 and 25 per cent – which have had a knock-on impact for the council.
According to the Bank of England, goods and services which cost £1 in 2019 now cost around £1.22.
At a Finance and Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday, July 4, some councillors feared the scheme would put off Dacorum residents from using parks and town centres.
Tring East councillor Michela Capozzi questioned whether charging drivers at Hemel Hempstead’s Gadebridge Park, where parking is currently free, is the right thing to do.
“I actually feel quite strongly that because people are using those places for wellbeing, they should be some of the last to be charged,” she said.
The Liberal Democrat councillor added “when you see the amount of people who use, for example, the skate park”, free parking becomes an issue of “losing access” to affordable exercise.
As part of their report, the committee received a grid showing how the Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens North car park compares with a selection of nearby car parks.
For three hours, which costs £2.20 at Water Gardens North, only council car parks at Luton Bute Street and Aylesbury Waterside are cheaper – at £2 and £2.10.
The same stay in Watford Palace costs £3.10 while at St Albans Civic Centre, the price is £4.20.
Officers used this comparison to suggest there is room to increase prices while still remaining one of the cheapest places to park.
Cllr Capozzi questioned whether this comparison is fair, suggesting Watford and St Albans attract a greater number of visitors from outside their boroughs.
“I don’t think we have that pull yet,” she said.
“The majority of the people who will be paying for this will be Dacorum residents.
“St Albans and Watford have more of a pull.”
Conservative councillor Colette Wyatt-Lowe (Woodhall Farm) asked: “Why are you proposing these increases at a time when we are trying to regenerate and support our town centres?
“How can you justify the proportionately high increases on those least able to afford them financially?”
Officers said keeping car parks open comes with a cost and, if the service begins to make losses, the council has less to spend on projects such as town centre works and tackling homelessness.
It will cost a one-off £27,000 to make the changes, which includes running a consultation, printing notice boards and updating pay-and-display machines.
Council staff said this is why “piecemeal” tariff rises are not the preferred option.
‘We know retailers are suffering’
The full range of measures include removing free parking at Gadebridge Park in Hemel Hempstead, Canal Fields in Berkhamsted, and The Nap and Langley Hill in Kings Langley.
Getting rid of “first hour free” parking at destinations such as The Forge in Tring “should increase dwell time at local shops and businesses by removing incentives to leave after just one hour”, the report adds.
Dacorum Borough Council may extend charging hours “to reflect the cost of providing parking services”, while additional long-stay tariffs could help to recover costs, with short-stay parking could have a minimum of two hours.
The top deck of Hemel Hempstead’s Water Gardens North car park, where white and red-marked bays are shut to the public on weekdays, could be opened up.
The £2 an hour standard tariff for on-street parking would be a rise from anywhere between 50p and £1 as current prices vary from road to road.
Ending free parking is forecasted to bring in £242,000 from the next financial year, with the 40p rise in off-street parking set to raise £463,083 per annum.
All put together, accounting for some inflation, the cumulative boost for the authority should be in the region of £2.91m by 2026/27.
Dacorum’s cabinet member for corporate and commercial services Cllr Sally Symington (LD, Berkhamsted West) said: “We know retailers are suffering.
“We know online retailers are taking away their high street custom.
“But we are building beautiful places people want to come to and ‘dwell’ in.
“For people who are losing a free hour, that’s very difficult.”
Cllr Symington added as well as contributing to council services such as housing and waste collection, the move would have secondary effects tackling the climate emergency and supporting town centres – reducing car use for short journeys, encouraging longer journeys to town centres, increasing dwell time, and regeneration.
No changes would be made without a public consultation and approval from the Dacorum Borough Council cabinet.
Current Dacorum Borough Council car parking charges can be viewed online.