Members of Lewes District Council have voted to increase car park charges in the town by 10 per cent – sparking a furious reaction.
The decision, taken at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, was described as “signalling the death knell for many local traders”.
It was condemned by Cllr James MacCleary, Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on the council.
He said that previously, under his party, the council had kept parking charges frozen for years, but the Conservatives had decided to end that policy and hike up the cost of using car parks in Lewes.
Cllr MacCleary said: “It seems that Tories at all levels are determined to pile stealth taxes on Lewes residents through parking charges.
“It’s hard enough for local businesses in the current environment without seeing parking become yet more expensive.
“The council recently released a regeneration strategy that made much of trying to attract more visitors to Lewes to boost the local economy. That’s a great idea so it seems bizarre to go about it by piling another 10 per cent on top of car park charges in the town.”
Cllr MacCleary continued: “Many in the town have always suspected that the Tories see parking charges as nothing more than a revenue stream to spend elsewhere, and now we know it’s true.
“Cabinet papers show clearly that the council aims to raise £50,000 from extra parking charges. I asked if the extra money would be spent in Lewes and was told that there was no guarantee of that.”
He added: “If the Tory strategy for Lewes is to kill off local businesses and jobs as quickly as possible then they are making the right moves.”
Local County Councillor Rosalyn St Pierre said: “This signals the death knell for many local traders who are in competition with Uckfield where parking is free. Once again we see how the Tories think they can just trample on local people, but we’re going to show them that they can’t.”
The increase has been defended by the Conservatives. Cllr Donna Edmunds said: “The Liberal Democrats’ budget included a £150,000 rise in parking fee income for the council. That’s equivalent to a 20 per cent uplift. If their intentions were not to raise parking fees either they weren’t planning on implementing their own budget, or they banked on not being elected. Had the fees been index-linked for the past eight years they would now be 30 per cent higher than they currently are.
“Our concern is always to provide value for money for Lewes District residents and visitors to our towns. With the extra money raised going towards maintaining these car parks to a high standard, we are confident that a 10 per cent rise does just that.”