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"It’s a bigger issue than just the leisure centre"

Councillors question proposed charges for leisure centre

John Herring

John Herring

john.herring@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886633

Parking charges planned for Kennet Leisure Centre

PROPOSALS for parking charges at the Kennet Leisure Centre have been labelled a “fait accompli” and lacking detail.

West Berkshire Council is planning to introduce the charges in an effort to clamp down on people not using the centre taking up parking spaces.

Under the proposals, the first two hours parking will be free and a ticket must be taken from a machine and displayed in the vehicle.

To park for three hours will cost £1, but to park for more than three hours will cost £10.

At a Thatcham Town Council meeting last week, members questioned the proposals.

Simon Pike (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) said: “I’m concerned about the over-three hour charge and the impact it might have for officials at sporting events.

“What’s this trying to achieve?

“The three hours seems to be too short to deter commuters, but has an impact on people who are legitimately using the centre.”

Ellen Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) asked whether there were special arrangements for sports instructors. 

The centre car park has 78 parking spaces and the council is proposing that 28 be allocated to Kennet School between 7.30am and 5.30pm to use on weekdays during term time.

Another 20 permits will be issued to the leisure centre for staff use, leaving 30 spaces for leisure centre customers on weekdays between 7.30am and 5.30pm.

The 28 spaces allocated to Kennet will be available to customers outside these hours and during school holidays.

Richard Foster (Lib Dem, Thatcham Coltrop and Crookham) asked whether 28 spaces was sufficient for Kennet School.

“It doesn’t seem right that teachers should have to pay £10 a day if they can’t get one of the 28 slots,” he said.

Payments must be made by mobile phone only and drivers cannot return for four hours after their allocation expires.

Parking must be paid at the start of a stay and topping up is not permitted. 

Mr Foster added: “It’s not possible to pay for a parking charge if your phone is older than a certain date.

“If that’s the only way method by which you can pay for parking that does seem to discriminate.

“Not everyone can pay for parking using their mobile phone.”

Representatives of Kennet School, the leisure centre and West Berkshire and Thatcham councils sit on a joint advisory committee (JAC) to assess and manage the centre.

Town council leader David Lister (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) said: “We don’t quite know how they came to the £10.

“I don’t know if that was ever approved or advised on the advisory committee.”

The town council declared a climate emergency in June

It is looking at ways to promote green forms of transport and reduce the number of vehicles on the town’s roads. 

Mr Lister said: “I would like secure facilities for cyclists.

“I’m very keen if there’s any money coming back in that it’s used for improvement of cycling facilities and, if possible as well, we need to think about electric charging points.

“Two hours means that people won’t be hogging the charging meters for long.”

Deputy mayor John Boyd (Lib Dem, Colthrop and Crookham) said that the Kennet JAC had not met for 18 months and that councillors’ questions could have been addressed before the proposals were issued. 

He added: “It’s a bigger issue than just the leisure centre.

“Kennet School, as it grows and takes on more staff, there are concerns about overspill into neighbouring areas.” 

Councillors discussed whether the charges were targetting station commuters.

But Mr Lister said he had been informed that Kennet Sixth Formers were partly responsible.

He said: “They are coming in and parking at the school.

“They don’t have a full day of study and there are no services from Bucklebury or wherever.

“I’m not sure it’s to do with the station.”

Mr Lister requested that the proposals should not be approved until councillors’ concerns had been addressed. 

Mr Pike concluded: “I don’t think this is a consultation.

“A consultation explains the reasons why they are doing it.

“This is a draft order.”

“A fait accompli,” Mrs Crumly added.

West Berkshire Council said the proposals were being considered because “for some years, patrons of the Kennet Leisure Centre have voiced frustrations at being unable to find a parking space”.

It stated: “It is hoped that the parking order will reduce the number of vehicles that are left for long periods by people who do not use the leisure centre and optimise parking for the leisure centre customers.”

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