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Chelmsford City Council has agreed to introduce a parking charge at Hylands House – despite a petition against the proposal signed by 7,500 people.
Councillor Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said it is “unfair” that visitors from outside of Chelmsford do not contribute to the running of Hylands House and Park.
He explained that people in Chelmsford will be able to sign up for a season ticket if they wish and will be discounted further. Those who receive council tax support and blue badge holders will not have to pay.
Cllr Robinson said council finances had been severely affected by the pandemic and central government has not provided sufficient support to the council facing a £5.3 million shortfall.
Robert Gisby, a father from Moulsham launched a petition, opposing the charge.
Mr Gisby said that Hylands Park is an important green space and is worried that a charge will exclude the poorest, as well as being costly to implement and manage.
Presenting the petition at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, February 24, he said: “I understand the difficult position the council finds itself in with regard to funding and I do not underestimate the challenges in making up lost revenue from the pandemic but I and the signatories of the petition feel strongly that the introduction of parking charges at Hylands is not the way to make up the shortfall.
“To take this route lacks innovation and will create real inequalities for the many individuals and families who currently use the park and the facilities.
But Cllr Robinson said the council has been forced to make the difficult financial decision in the face of having to raise £500,000 in new charges.
He said even after government funds of £2.2 million to £7.6 million, it still leaves the council to find £5.3 million of savings.
While some of that will come from cash reserves, the financial director has urged this should not be used anymore given the uncertainty for the coming year.
He said: “But after that we have to generate £500,000 of new income and that is what these charges do.
“They are not a first, second or third choice; they are the least worst option.
“This budget sets the principle of charging and the consultation is the detail.”
The consultation on Hylands will still continue to run until March 16.
The ruling Liberal Democrats also agreed to increase bereavement fees – raising the cost to cremate the remains of a loved one aged 16 or more by at least £95 and increasing charges for a burial by at least £234.