Campaigners are preparing to fight plans to introduce parking charges at two Stoke-on-Trent beauty spots – three years after defeating similar proposals.
Leaders at Stoke-on-Trent City Council have revived the idea of bringing in charges at Westport Lake and Central Forest Park, as part of their draft budget for 2021/22.
The proposal would see motorists charged £3 for up to three hours, or £6 for 24 hours, with Blue Badge holders parkin for free.
The council originally proposed to introduce charges as part of the 2018/19 draft budget, but the plan was scrapped after thousands of people voiced their opposition during the pubic consultation.
Council chiefs say there are now stronger arguments in favour of introducing the charges, which are expected to generate £17,000 for the authority next year, rising to £70,000 by 2023/24.
These arguments include the need to improve the council’s financial situation – the draft budget includes £6.6 million in new savings – and the desire to get people to switch from cars to ‘active travel’.
But opponents say the charges will hit low-income families who can currently enjoy a free day out at the parks, and discourage people from exercising.
Three years ago, more than 4,000 people signed an online petition, organised by Our Burslem, against the Westport Lake parking charges, with another 1,000 people supporting a similar petition relating to Central Forest Park. Group founder June Cartwright says Our Burslem will oppose the parking charges again.
She said: “It is disappointing that they’re bringing back this idea – they never seem to listen to what people tell them.
“There are families with young children who might not be able to afford holidays or day trips, but they can go for a nice day out for free at Westport Lake. If there’s a parking charge, that might stop them doing that.
“Sometimes I’ll go to Westport Lake just to sit and enjoy the quiet. Parents will bring their children to feed the ducks and swans. I’m worried about what will happen to the birds if there are fewer people feeding them. They’ve already been going hungry because of the lockdown.
“And they’re always telling people that they need to get out and exercise. But then they do something like this that will discourage people from going for a walk around Westport Lake.
“We’ll definitely be fighting against these proposals again.”
According to the council’s business case for the introduction of charges, Stoke-on-Trent’s parks and greenspaces see 46 per cent higher footfall than those elsewhere in the West Midlands.
The document states: “Whilst this is positive for health and wellbeing it does present a cost to the council. However, introducing parking charges may decant and displace some demand into the vicinity.”
Income from the charges would be invested in the ‘safety, maintenance and attractiveness’ of the facilities. Around £300,000 of planned improvement workss are due to take place over the next 12 months, while introducing charges would require a further £60,000 of investment.
There would also be increased enforcement of parking restrictions on nearby streets, to stop people from dodging the charges.
In Your Area gives you the community news you need. Find out about events where you live, the latest news, property for sale and all the local planning and council notices. All the local updates straight to your inbox!
You can sign up here.
Councillor Dan Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration and transport, says there are good reasons for introducing the charges.
He also claimed that the opposition to the parking charges three years ago involved many people from outside Stoke-on-Trent.
Mr Jellyman said: “We are consulting on these proposals and I would encourage people to respond. I know a lot of people who responded last time were not actually Stoke-on-Trent taxpayers – they were people from outside the city who are actually taking advantage of our wonderful green spaces without paying for them.
“The fact is that the council needs to find savings so we can continue to provide local services in Stoke-on-Trent. People already pay charges when they park in our town centres, so there’s no real difference in paying to park at Westport Lake or Central Forest Park.
“We also want to encourage people to use active travel instead of private cars. Both Westport Lake and Central Forest Park are close to canals or greenways, meaning they are very accessible on foot or by bike.”
The public consultation on the city council’s budget proposals runs until February 14. To have your say, visit stoke.gov.uk/budget2021