Chelmsford unable to follow Basildon with free parking offer, says city council

Chelmsford City Council has said it cannot afford to follow Basildon Council in making council car parks free until the end of this year to boost high street recovery.

Free pay and display car parks and season tickets were unanimously agreed upon by Basildon’s Neighbourhoods and Public Spaces Committee on July 21.

The move is designed to lend support to high streets as part of the Shop Local, Shop Safe campaign, which aims to encourage shoppers to support their local high street and support shopkeepers in reopening in a safe manner.

The move is expected to result in a loss of income to the council of £225,000.

But Chelmsford has argued it cannot afford to offer the same deal – given the impact the pandemic has had on Chelmsford City Council’s finances.

This year, because of the pandemic and lockdown, Chelmsford City Council has a £9.5 million budget gap, largely through the loss of fees and charges.

In responding to a request through social media that Chelmsford City Council should offer free parking a spokesman said: “It’s a difficult balance for councils.

“Once, councils received big Government grants which were used to fund essential services like homelessness support, bin collections and public health. However, we don’t receive those grants any more.

“Local councils also keep 11 per cent of council tax. That means all the services that local councils provide are paid for largely with income from car parking, leisure centres, events and so on.

“This year, because of the pandemic and lockdown, Chelmsford City Council has a £9.5 million budget gap which means we’re worried that we might struggle to provide those essential services. Sadly, we really need the income from car parks to carry on doing what we exist to do – we’re not just being mean.”

Chairman of Basildon Council’s Neighbourhoods and Public Spaces Committee, Councillor David Harrison said: “This will have big value to high streets, especially in Billericay and Wickford.

“While there is a financial cost to the council, it will provide a real boost to high street traders in a time of real need.”

The council will also monitor the car parks to see how they are used. If there is heavy use by commuters rather than shoppers then a daily fee will be introduced between 12pm and 6pm.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter