Thatcham car parking charges 'deterring visitors'
Healthy profit for West Berkshire Council from town's car parks but proposed 'modest increase' could see footfall decline
Thatcham’s public car parks provided almost £300,000 for West Berkshire Council’s coffers in the last two years.
And it is feared, the cost of parking may be one of the factors deterring shoppers from visiting the town.
The council operates three car parks in the town – The Kingsland Centre, Gilbert Court and the Burdwood Centre.
Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Newbury Weekly News show that the district council raked in £294,731.55 from the three car parks in two years. The figures include VAT.
In 2013/14, £145,339.90 was collected and a breakdown of the income reveals that £141,797.90 alone came from the Kingsland Centre, £2,194.60 from Gilbert Court and £1,347.40 from Burdwood.
The following financial year saw the overall revenue increase to £149,391.65.
Income from Kingsland increased to £143,678.30, Gilbert Court £3,148.10 and Burdwood £2,565.25.
Earlier this year, a council report revealed that between April and June 2014 an average 5,490 people a day visited Thatcham town centre.
The chairman of Thatcham’s Chamber of Commerce, Jeremy Cottam, said: “I am startled and concerned at this level of parking income and worried the high pricing may be one of the factors affecting the footfall in The Broadway.”
West Berkshire Council said that the income is spent on a range of highway services, including road safety, car parks repair and maintenance and traffic improvement measures.
When the Newbury Weekly News asked how much the council spent on maintaining each car park, the request was forwarded to the Freedom of Information department.
The council recently said, however, that income from Burdwood “while modest, more than meets the annual running costs of the car park and it is an important element in the council’s annual car parks income stream”.
And charges at Thatcham’s car parks could increase.
The council has proposed a ‘modest increase’ at some of the town’s car parks, along with rises in Newbury, Theale and Pangbourne, in its budget proposals for 2016/17.
The authority said that the review was appropriate after four years with the aim of using the additional income to undertake important traffic management work, while remaining competitive with other towns in the region.
But Mr Cottam said he hoped that the council would take the town’s low footfall figures into account.
“What other towns charge is not relevant, what we need to do is address our own local needs,” he said.
“Any increase in charges can only have an adverse effect on visitors to our town centre, and could even drive people away to the free out-of-town retailers.
“Moreover, recent inflation figures have been virtually zero and is thought to be negligible for some time, so any increases being considered need to be justified in detail.
“I hope councillors will demonstrate how business-friendly they are, by actually reducing our parking charges.”
The consultation on the budget review runs until 5pm on December 21.