Cabinet members at Thanet council have agreed the details for the authority’s 2023/24 budget which will go for full council approval in February – but concern is brewing over a proposed 10% increase in parking charges.
There was cross party approval for measures including using £594,000 New Homes Bonus for the provision of temporary accommodation for homeless residents and £800,000 investment in council corporate properties as well as money to employ more CCTV staff and Coastal Enforcement wardens and a 100% council tax premium on empty second homes from April 2024.
However, Thanet Labour Party councillors said they will not support the proposed 10% rise in off-street parking charges, saying the council should delay any changes until an upcoming parking review has been completed.
Cllr David Saunders, who is the Cabinet member for finance, said fees and charges were an important part of making sure the council budget is balanced.
A full parking review is due to be carried by April 2024, but in the meantime current parking charges would be increased by 10% or alternatively a comparable increase at each location, so that is rounded to the nearest 10p.
This is expected to increase budget contribution for off street parking by £95k. On-street parking income is ring-fenced and cannot be used for general budget funding.
The 10% increase proposed across the majority of council fees and charged is expected to bring in an additional £610,000 although the council’s finance officer said the rise in parking charges was to keep it in line with inflation rather than to provide extra income.
The council budget includes rising costs due to inflation pressures but also increases from £17.902m for this financial year (2022/23) up to £21.412m for 2023/24, which represents a £3.510m or 19.6% increase in spending on services.
Conservative Cabinet member for finance, Cllr David Saunders, said: “Due to the high inflation environment we are currently operating in, the council has seen substantial increases in its own running costs and the costs of the services it provides for residents.
“The council services are funded by a broad range of income streams with fees and charges being just one of those means of financing.”
He said reduced funding from council tax and government grants mean: “Locally generated sources of income such as fees and charges are even more important than ever.”
Labour says that pushing up parking charges is hard to justify given the state of some of the district’s most used car parks, especially the multi-storeys in Ramsgate’s Leopold Street and Margate’s Mill Lane.
Shadow finance member Cllr Rob Yates, said: “Labour made clear at the fees and charges working group that we wanted additional support for our residents when it came to parking. This recommendation was not one that was taken forward.
“We do not believe it is reasonable that the hardworking residents of Thanet should bear a whopping 10% increase in parking charges during the worst cost-of-living crisis in memory.
“With free parking available at Westwood Cross, this is a threat to our high streets and the fortunes of local businesses, while a Thanet resident with an annual car-park season ticket will need to find £64 more than last year in order to go about their daily life.
“Royal Harbour car park in Ramsgate is still without any lifts and there seems to be no plan to get them fixed. Has the cost of car parks to the council increased by 10%? We don’t think it has.
“The fees and charges report states that a full parking review is to be carried out by April 2024 and that changes will come into effect then.
“Surely it is better to wait for the outcome of the review rather than increase costs so dramatically for our residents during a cost of living crisis before the review is even complete?”
Cllr Saunders said he would like to see preferential treatment for residents but if there were such recommendations from the parking review it could still take “the whole of 2024” for them to be implemented because a digital system would need to be set up.
Cllr Tricia Austin (Green) said temporary measures, such as coach parking facilities and use of Ramsgate port for storage and parking, should be considered as a way of raising income.
Fellow Green Party member Cllr Mike Garner also asked for reconsideration of a key workers parking permit scheme, possibly via a pilot project with Thanet care agencies.
Thanet Labour leader Rick Everitt said there were also concerns over increasing staff in ‘back office posts.’
He added: “We are concerned that staffing increases being proposed are mostly back-office posts and therefore won’t tackle issues that residents repeatedly tell us matter to them, like dirty streets, rundown car parks and public toilets that aren’t fit for purpose.”
Cllr Everitt said he would like to talk to members from all parties to find a way to remove the parking charge hike to avoid the need for “a performance” at full council but said there would be ‘a performance’ if necessary.
Council leader Ash Ashbee said she assumed that implied there could be an attempt to ‘vote down’ the budget and said although there was a willingness to listen to alternatives taking money away in one area would mean finding it from another source.
Thanet council’s finance officer said savings of around £300,000 would need to be made on other services in order to freeze the parking fees rise.
The draft budget and proposed fees and charges are due to be considered by the council’s overview and scrutiny panel next week and go to full council on February 9.