Chelmsford City Council proposes parking charge at Hylands Park

Chelmsford City Council is proposing a “small parking charge” at Hylands Park – which is currently free.

The parking charge is yet to be determined, but a discount is expected to be available for people who live in Chelmsford and contribute already to its upkeep via council tax.

City centre car park charges are to be frozen.

The council says it is anticipating a £4.7 million shortfall in funding between April and June – onto an accrued £2.7 million budget gap from the loss of income in 2020.

To help fill the shortfall, there is a planned council tax increase of £4.95 per year on average for the portion of council tax which the city council keeps.

The introduction of a parking charge at Hylands is one of the most controversial aspects of the package of measures being proposed for the coming financial year.

Councillor Chris Davidson, cabinet member for a Fairer Chelmsford, said: “The value of parks and open spaces to residents have been amply demonstrated during the pandemic and we know how well-loved Hylands is.

“We don’t want to introduce parking charges and have always resisted doing so, despite most other country parks charging.

“But now we must if we are to continue to maintain and invest in the park to keep it the beautiful place that it is.”

Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said: “At the moment people from outside the district make no contribution to the cost of the park.

“We are keen that whatever charge is levied, there will be a discount for residents and an additional discount for residents with low income.”

Parking and other fees from leisure and theatre events have taken the biggest hit.

Like councils across the country, Chelmsford City Council has faced huge financial losses that have been documented throughout the pandemic.

In June, the authority announced that its expected deficit for 2020/21 is £8.6 million. This comes as a result of lost income from leisure centres, museums, theatres, events, car parks, as well as expected increasing costs related to the pandemic, such as homelessness and new benefit claims.

“But the parking income is expected never to return to pre-COVID levels.,” said Cllr Robinson.

“We are assuming that car parking income will never come back to where it was.

“We have to assume that a lot of people will be working from home even if it is just some days of the week. People have got too used to it.

“That is an ongoing permanent effect of COVID, which has its benefits – it benefits the environment and also the local high street.

“If people instead of spending money in London are spending in Chelmsford that will be good for local business.”

He also added that Hylands Park Festival could be back in the summer.

He said: “We hope that something can happen. We were in discussion in the summer and they were hoping to run an event.

“As soon as we are allowed to do events in the park we will.”

Cllr Davidson, who will introduce the proposed budget at a meeting on January 26, said: “The past year has been extremely hard on  everyone – residents, businesses, voluntary groups and councils.

“We’ve seen it in the numbers of people contacting us for homelessness support and in the £38 million of grants we’ve paid out to struggling local businesses.

“The coming year’s budget presents a particular challenge.

“We must help Chelmsford recover by making carefully chosen, important investments while also protecting our essential services that will deliver a greener, fairer and better-connected Chelmsford.

“We must also, of course, balance the books so we’re in a strong position for the future.

“The Government has not stepped in to cover all our losses from the pandemic. So some hard decisions will have to be made.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter