Evening car parking charges ‘targeting’ Northgate and New Park Road are to be reconsidered after a heated debate from the scrutiny committee today.
The one year trial to extend charging hours to 8pm at the council owned car parks near Chichester Festival Theatre and New Park Centre was approved earlier in January, despite strong objections.
Chichester District Council cabinet will now be asked to reconsider whether a general rise in car parking fees would be a fairer than singling out the two popular evening venues.
Cllr Andrew Shaxon noted ‘the need to increase income’, but questioned whether the best way forward was ‘cherry picking two car parks with a largely captive clientèle, who will be disadvantaged in one way or another’.
Cllr Richard Plowman, who initiated the challenge, said the fees went contrary to the council’s support for Chichester Festival Theatre and could be the ‘final straw’ for struggling groups at New Park Centre.
He said: “This is a community centre at New Park and it supports an area which is one of the most deprived areas in West Sussex, so it’s very important that we make access to these as easy as possible.
“This is a revenue generating exercise and I think there are fairer and better was of doing it that won’t have a detrimental impact on these two wonderful organisations.”
A proposal was put forward by Cllr Myles Cullen, who asked if the cabinet could consider a general rise in car parking fees as opposed to the ‘curiously targeted’ evening venues, which seemed to have ‘a tremendous effect on the local community’.
Witnesses were also called from key consultees including Rachel Tackley, the recently appointed executive director of Chichester Festival Theatre, who warned the committee not to take the theatre’s success for granted.
Echoing a calculation voiced by the cabinet last year, she said that a £1.50 two-hour fee was a 15 percent rise on a £10 ticket and the fees ‘severely hampered’ the theatre’s aim to be more price inclusive.
She added that late fees could result in traffic build-up as patrons attempted to avoid paying until 7pm and that box office staff on the living wage would pay £1.50 to work shifts that could be just four hours long.
But some committee members were sceptical in view of a letter from theatre management in 2011, supplied as an appendix, supporting late parking fees, provided the theatre benefitted from the revenue.
Concerns were also raised as to the advertisement of the consultation, which was difficult to locate on the council website, and hard to understand from posters at New Park Road car park.
But cabinet member for commercial services Gillian Keegan said the council had followed all statutory guidelines in presenting the consultation and that the £98,000 generated by the trial would go towards plugging a £4million deficit in council funding.
Committee members were that the final decision would remain with cabinet members even if the full council debated the trial later this afternoon.
A motion to refer the decision back to cabinet was carried seven votes to six.
The next district council cabinet meeting is due on February 7.
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