HUNGERFORD has been singled out for the biggest parking charge hike in the district.
The move was branded “outrageous” by Hungerford Chamber of Commerce chairman Nigel Perrin.
The proposed increase is announced in West Berkshire Council’s budget proposals for the next financial year.
Parking charges would rise from 50p for an hour to 80p and from 90p to £1.30 for two hours, with similar increases for stays of up to four hours.
A consultation document outlines the increases for each town, then acknowledges: “There are some slightly higher increases in the charges proposed in Hungerford, although not for stays over four hours.”
No reason for this is given.
The increased tariff proposed for Church Street, Station Road and High Street parking follows a similar regional hike in May.
Town mayor Martin Crane expressed surprise that Hungerford had apparently been singled out, especially at a time of falling footfall, for a higher increase than towns such as Newbury, Thatcham and Pangbourne.
He said: “It appears we are being picked on and I shall want to know why.”
The proposals come at a sensitive stage in negotiations between Hungerford Town Council and the district council over the revenue generated from car parking.
Mr Crane said he was due to meet district council chief executive Nick Carter today (Thursday) to discuss a town council proposal to add its own surcharge to the parking tariff.
This would then be retrieved from the district council and be used to prop up threatened Hungerford services, such as the town library.
But the new proposed hike may threaten the viability of such a scheme, and Mr Crane acknowledged: “We’re between a rock and a hard place.”
On the one hand the town council needs the cash – but it also fears deterring shoppers with uncompetitive parking rates.
Another item on the table for discussion today will be the possibility of providing residents with a card to allow free parking.
Car parking charges in Hungerford generate around £140,000 a year. An additional town council surcharge may not prove popular with everyone.
Following a High Court ruling, councils are not allowed to use on-street parking charges and fines as a ‘stealth tax’.
However a spokesman for the RAC Foundation, Phillip Gomm, said: “Councils have a lot more leeway with how and why they set off-street parking prices as compared with on street fees.
“However, while additional charges might be legally justifiable, many motorists will find them morally dubious.”
Mr Perrin said: “This is outrageous and, sadly, typical of West Berkshire Council. They don’t seem to know we ’re here unless they’re putting up business rates or looking to squeeze money somehow.
“Small businesses in the town are under pressure from all sides and, at the very least, I would expect a level playing field.”
A West Berkshire Council spokeswoman, Joanne Bassett, said: “Charges in Hungerford were not reviewed as a part of the
“All areas of the district are being reviewed in this current round of proposals and the proposed charges for Hungerford
will be broadly in line with the parking charges elsewhere in the district, outside of Newbury. ”