Families visiting Southend seafront are being “blindsided” following a hike in car parking charges which is deterring them coming back to the town, Tory leaders say.
Southend Council’s Conservative group is calling for controversial parking increases which started in April to be shelved with last year’s charges reinstated.
The Southend Pass – which allows for three hours parking in various zones across the borough for an £8.50 monthly fee – would remain.
In February, the council did a U-turn on scrapping free parking after 6pm following concerns for businesses, traders and MPs.
The council also dropped a proposed £24 charge for some car parks on Southend seafront, reducing it to £18 for between seven and ten hours but this was still an increase from the previous £12 charge.
Councillor Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative group, said the increased charges had blind-sided visitors who were unaware of the increase.
He said: “I am hearing people say they are coming to Southend but won’t come back. We want the charges to be put back to what they were because people are coming and not returning.”
Speaking of the Southend Pass, Cllr Cox added: “The money for the Southend Pass is already allocated for a year so lets the outcome of that. The principle of the Southend pass is sound but it does need tweaking.
“I don’t think it should be a forced 12 month charge. People should be able to opt out after a certain time. Also instead of having zones it should be across the borough.
“Take up has been low considering they needed £10,000 people to sign up to make it worthwhile but we’ll see how it goes.”
Paul Thompson, a member of the Southend Seafront Traders’ Association, backed a return for the old charges.
He said: “Visitors are coming to Southend as they are unaware of the hiked pricing charges. The problem is that these visitors will not come back, and they are telling us they are being ripped off by Southend Council.
Many customers and residents are telling us they are going to go somewhere else next time. Ron Woodley has got this wrong and the council should change this immediately. A very low percentage of residents have bought the pass.”
Cllr Ron Woodley, deputy leader of the council said: “I’m glad the Tories now realise the Southend Pass is an asset for local people having denigrated it when it first came in. It’s nice to see they’ve changed their minds.
“If we go back to 2019 charges we would need to increase the charging time from 6pm to 9pm and charges in the town centre would need to increase. On the street, people would have to pay for two hours rather than one.
“Our strategy will ensure there is enough revenue to fund £10million of repairs to footways and highways.”