More than 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for Chelmsford City Council to scrap plans for the introduction of a 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 also set to be frozen in the council’s latest plans.
The introduction of a fee at Hylands Park comes amidst a severe drop in the council’s revenue due to COVID-19. 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 Park is one of the most controversial aspects of the package of measures being proposed for the coming financial year.
Robert Gisby, a father from Moulsham has launched a petition, opposing the charge. He says Hylands Park is an important green space and worries a charge will exclude the poorest, as well as being costly to implement and manage.
Mr Gisby said: “Hylands has been part of my life for over 35 years and I have fond memories of going there as a child.
“I now visit regularly with my young family and I’d hate to think adding costs to visiting might deter families from having the same opportunities to access such a fantastic green space.
“The petition has really grabbed people’s attention – it has taken on a life of its own and it is clear there are many reasons why people oppose the charge, be that the impact on parking in Writtle, worries about the cost to families or so many other issues.
“Hylands is a valued asset to Chelmsford. Especially now, we must do everything we can to ensure these spaces are open to all for the physical and mental health benefits they bring.
“To consider charging and risk making the park less accessible to people who may need it the most is mean spirited. Doing this without proper discussion and debate is undemocratic.”
One signatory named Alex, writing in support of the petition, said: “There are many more people in financial difficulties at present and one of the few recreations available is walking. I think it is better to raise council tax in order that we all can ensure that there are pleasant places for all to walk and exercise.
“If someone can’t afford to park at a pleasant place then they might stay at home. A very depressing thought. Even worse for the individual affected.”
Sarah, another resident, added: “We are in the middle of a pandemic and people need this park to escape from everyday stress. This parking cost is just unnecessary and families at present just cannot afford another cost.”
The council says that currently people from outside the district make no contribution to the cost of the park, and that given the scale and seriousness of the financial impact of Covid-19, all options, such as charging at Hylands must be utilised.
Councillor Chris Davidson, cabinet member for Fairer Chelmsford, said at a meeting of the cabinet last week: “Hylands Park costs Chelmsford tax payers at least £520,000 a year even after taking into account the event and hire fees we generate.
“The city council can simply no longer afford this cost and the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on our income.
“Parking income will be permanently down by maybe £1.6 million a year and we are forecasting budget pressure will continue throughout the period until 2026.
“That leaves a choice between either cutting back staffing at Hylands Park or other vital services, or introducing a Hylands parking charge so we can continue to invest in the staff and maintain Hylands and all Chelmsford parks to a high standard.”