Bid to halt parking charge plan for Southend parks backed by councillors

A bid to halt the introduction of parking charges in Southend’s parks has been backed by a majority of councillors but could leave a hole in the city council’s budget.

Conservatives put forward a motion to abolish the deeply unpopular proposals to charge people to park in hitherto free car parks which will hit residents, particularly the elderly, using them for recreation and health activities.

The charges would impact Leigh’s Belfairs Park, Priory Park in Southend, and Chalkwell Park in 2024/25 as well as in Big Gunners and Little Gunners Park in Shoebury and Jones Memorial Ground in Southend from 2023/24.

Tories won a vote 23 to nine at Thursday’s council meeting and the charges will now be referred to cabinet to be reconsidered after the election.

Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative Group, said: “A lot of the abstentions came from the administration who only a few weeks ago voted to introduce those charges. It’s a massive issue. People feel strongly about it.

“If there is a Conservative administration after May 4 we will uphold the result in full.

”The amount of money is peanuts. I believe by increasing parking spaces which we’ve already done some preliminary work on, could offset those charges easily.”

Peter Lovett, vice chairman of Shoebury Residents’ Association welcomed the motion.

He said: “Anything that stops them charging for parking in car parks has got to be good news. People fro deprived areas take their kids over to these parks because they can’t afford anything else so charging is absolutely ridiculous.”

Stephen George, leader of the council, said the only alternative was to cut services.

He added: “Whilst the proposal does not impact on the balanced budget set for 2023/24 it does create an additional £50,000 gap in the medium term financial plan from 2024/25 onwards.

“It will create and estimated £18,500 loss of income per annum and an unbalanced budget for 2023/24. I personally feel it is irresponsible of the opposition to propose a measure that will have a financial impact without stating where or how this will be met.”

There were ten abstentions from the vote, including the council’s deputy leader Martin Terry, Ian Wakefield, councillor responsible for traffic, parking and highways who actually introduced the charges in the council’s budget and Carole Mulroney, councillor responsible for environment, culture and tourism.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter