Council to decide fate of free parking after hundreds voice their opposition

THE cross-party ‘Borough Partnership’ is to decide whether to abolish free parking in the towns of Paddock Wood and Southborough as the Council’s cabinet meets tomorrow (Thursday, September 22).

As part of the coalition’s deficit reduction plan, free parking for the first hour in the Council-owned car park in Paddock Wood and the first two hours in Yew Tree car park in Southborough was set to be scrapped in favour of a 50 pence per hour charge.

But the proposals sparked anger in the two Tunbridge Wells towns since they were first proposed in July.

Councillors and residents in Paddock Wood and Southborough, as well as the MP for Tunbridge Wells have all criticised the plans.

Greg Clark urged the ruling Borough Partnership, which is made up of Lib Dem, Alliance and Labour councillors, to drop the plans, arguing they would be ‘damaging’ for businesses.

Business leaders in the two towns also slammed the proposals.

Richard Barsley, managing director of Barsley’s department store and chairman of the Paddock Wood Business Association (PWBA) told a previous Council committee he was ‘stunned’ by the proposals.

He said: “Customers lack the incentive for more considered shopping or just time for a coffee and a snack. Dwell time is crucial to many businesses in the town and the council has said it aims to promote this.”

Thousands of signatures were collected in online petitions and protests took place in the towns, forcing the Cabinet to delay the implementation of the plans, which were scheduled to begin on October 1, so it could hold a public consultation.

That six-week consultation, which ended on September 5, saw more than 920 people taking part.

The Times can reveal that 80 per cent of respondents – around 736 people – told the Council they opposed the scrapping of free parking at the two car parks.

The decision on whether to still go ahead with the scrapping of free parking is set to be decided tomorrow.

The Cabinet, led by Lib Dem Cllr Ben Chapelard, will have to choose whether to implement the plans from the new date on December 1, or scrap the proposals altogether.

The Borough Partnership has already U-turned over the decision to scrap free parking at Dunorlan Park.

The Cabinet meeting, which coincidently was meant to take place in Paddock Wood, has been relocated to the Town Hall in Tunbridge Wells, after the Council said no suitable venue could be found.

The Cabinet meeting is due to begin at 6.30pm.

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