Seafront businesses warn evening charge will cost jobs

Southend seafront businesses have warned they may have to slash opening hours and cut jobs after controversial plans to introduce new parking charges were given the go ahead at the start of the summer season.

The previously free Zone 1a seafront charge will see visitors charged £3 per hour between 6pm and 9pm. Angry traders say people out for an evening meal will be almost certain to go elsewhere rather than pay an extra £9 for their night out and nearby Leigh could be the winner.

The new charges were rubber stamped at a meeting of the traffic regulations working party on Thursday and are set to begin on July 1.

At the meeting Antonia Waite, manager of Oyster Creek Kitchen on Western Esplanade, said already steep seafront parking charges had impacted businesses which have been forced to cut their opening hours because of falling visitor numbers.

She said: “With the extra parking costs it looks we will have no choice but to cut our opening hours even further. This will lead directly to further job losses. If you look around half the Arches are closed entirely or they are up for sale, as is Toulouse.

“It’s very hard to justify to our customers a £9 parking fee per visit.”

Ms Waite, who accused the council of making the seafront a “laughing stock” for visitors, added: “If this goes ahead we will simply lose yet more customers to other restaurants around the town, Old Leigh, Leigh Broadway and the High Street where parking is completely free, as well as to out of town restaurants. This damages us and it also means the town may not get the extra parking revenue.”

Ms Waite said the stretch of seafront was dead in the winter and on rainy days but even on a sunny day during the recent half-term there were almost no cars parked up.

She said: “We believe the parking charges are already having a huge detrimental effect. The central seafront might still be busy but the periphery where we are is incredibly quiet.

“We should be aiming to have a busy vibrant seafront, especially in the half-term holidays instead we will be one of the most expensive seafronts in the country.”

A petition started by Adventure Island boss Philip Miller has reached 577 signatures.

After the decision, Mr Miller rounded on the council, He said: “It is a fact that if you increase the price of something, less of it will be bought.

“Southend cannot afford to lose a single customer, these new charges are already affecting locals let alone trippers. Life is tough outside of their Ivory Towers.

I highly recommend [visitors] park in the high street. It’s half the price there.”

Residents ignored

Southend council has been accused of ignoring hundreds of residents who oppose the charges.

Kevin Buck, Conservative councillor for Prittlewell Ward said: “We’ve had 568 objectors so far to the 6pm to 9pm parking charges who have signed a petition on the council website and they’ve been completely ignored and dismissed as irrelevant.

“Your punitive charging policies are going to penalise visitors to Southend and it will deter them from coming and it will impact businesses. It impact parking revenue because people simply won’t come.”

Cllr Buck added: “Who do think uses the seafront in the evenings. The majority of people who use the seafront in the evening are the residents so you expect residents to pay.”

The Tories attempted to get the meeting postponed, saying objectors hadn’t been informed about it but they were informed it had been advertised in the normal manner.

Daniel Cowan, chairman of the committee and leader of the council, said: “We have to recognise the assets that we have as an authority but also the cost of the upkeep of those assets. We cannot continue to allow them to be used for free,

“Where they are being used heavily we should look to increase our revenue. Last year the 6pm to 9pm charges, in the two months it was operational, achieved almost 80 per cent of what it was believed it would take over a 12 month period.”

Lydia Hyde, councillor responsible for climate, environment and waste added: “Effectively, council tax payers are subsidising our visitors. Not just road repairs. In my own brief of waste, I was astonished to find about 20 per cent of our waste disposal is due to street waste.

“A vast of majority of our street waste is produced at the seafront and along the high street. When you look at how much money we are spending on disposing of our waste it is millions of pounds in total.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter