‘Vendetta-led’ budget amendments will wreck seafront trade say outraged businesses

Southend seafront businesses fear a “vendetta-led” plan to bring back evening parking charges will destroy businesses and create a “ghost town”.

Traders voiced their outrage after a Tory budget was scuppered when the former Labour-led joint administration regrouped to bring a raft of 11th hour amendments to the minority Conservative council’s 2024/25 budget.

Southend Independents and Lib Dems joined Labour to present a block of amendments which were passed with 27 votes for the changes and 22 votes against them.

The now “opposition budget” will reduce parking charges by 11.14 per cent in car parks across the city while reintroducing 6pm to 9pm charges along Southend’s entire seafront, with an exemption for Southend Pass holders.

Speaking at Thursday’s budget setting council meeting, Martin Terry, Independent councillor for Thorpe Ward, defended the charge and claimed the city had lost £1million of revenue from scrapping the evening parking charges which he said unfairly benefited seafront businesses.

Opposition councillors say visitors should pay their way but Tories have branded the “hijack” of its budget as “shameless” and seafront traders said the “vicious attack” would hit businesses hard.

Philip Miller, owner of Adventure Island said: “Last night’s decision came as no surprise to us, we know it has nothing to do with budgets but a personal vendetta against seaside businesses led by certain councillors, they know full well it is the seafront attractions that fill the council coffers with parking gold.

“This vicious attack will actually create a downturn in revenues, folks just can’t afford it now let alone if they go through with this lunacy. They talk about the so-called Southend Pass as an alternative which is just a distraction tactic.”

Paul Thompson, owner of Pebbles One cafe in Marine Parade, said current seafront charges of £3 an hour and £25 for a day were already “punitive” adding: “It’s not good for residents or tourists. It’s anti-seafront and anti-business.”

“If they charged less more people would come and they would generate more revenue from more visitors. You can’t maintain and income level with less visitors.”

James Miller, leader, of the Southend Confelicity Party branded the charge a “backwards, ill-thought out and destructive decision”. He added: “This will kill businesses and jobs all along the seven miles of seafront, as Southend residents, many of whom are already facing serious financial struggles, decide to stay away.

“Demand for seafront businesses will plummet and it will become a ghost town.”

Cllr Terry insisted the evening charges on the seafront would target visitors rather than residents in Southend, and help bring in more cash for the council at a difficult time.

He added: “Visitors to our city who often make a huge mess, require intense support from various city services and sometimes cause mayhem. Should these things contribute to the myriad of services they expect and receive from city tax payers?

“Why should we cut local services and then give discounts to visitors. With our budget enhancements we aren’t doing that. We are putting residents first.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter