York Council’s Labour administration has announced fees for its car parks are set to rise for both residents and visitors from April 1 as the authority attempts to raise revenues while slashing expenditure by £20m over the next two financial years.
But the move has provoked concerns from political rivals and leading retail figures who have claimed the council is failing to support the city centre’s traders.
The economic crisis has claimed a series of high-profile scalps in recent weeks, with camera retailer Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster all announcing they have gone into administration since the start of the year. But fears for York city centre are even more acute as planning permission was granted by the council last May for a development for showpiece retailers including Marks & Spencer and John Lewis at Monks Cross on the edge of the city.
The council’s decision to withdraw a planning blueprint, the Local Development Framework’s Core Strategy, also in May last year due to fears over its viability has also raised speculation there is no clearly defined approach for attracting new enterprise.
The leader of the Conservative group, Coun Ian Gillies, admitted there are intense financial constraints amid the Government’s cuts, but said money earmarked for schemes such as enforcing 20mph zones should instead be used to prevent parking fee rises.
He said: “It is all about choices, but unfortunately I believe the council’s administration has made the wrong ones. The promises made to support city centre traders when the Monks Cross development was approved have a particular hollow ring to them now.
“We all know the High Street is under intense pressure, but increasing car parking fees does nothing to support the city centre.”
The rise will mean hourly charges at the council’s car parks will increase by 20p for residents and 10p for visitors.
York already has some of the region’s highest fees, with an hourly rate of £2.20 in the car park next to Clifford’s Tower.
The increase has also raised fears the visitor economy, which generates £443m annually, could be undermined as tourists look to rival destinations instead.
Nick Eggleton, who runs Fifty50 Hair Design and Technology in Little Stonegate, was one of the most vocal critics of the Monks Cross development.
Mr Eggleton, a member of the York Retail Forum, said: “There needs to be an overhaul of the car parking strategy, and common sense dictates rising fees will mean people will not want to pay to park. If you want the High Street to remain sustainable, accessibility is key.”
Council leader James Alexander said support was being given to traders through the Re-invigorate York scheme which is investing in city centre infrastructure, while trials are to take place for “pay on exit” parking to encourage shoppers to stay longer.
He added: “We have to strike the right balance between promoting sustainable forms of transport into the city centre and delivering the income that has always been a necessary part of balancing the council’s budget. I feel we have struck that balance in the difficult economic circumstances of Government cuts.”
A council spokeswoman stressed the fees increase for residents was the first since 2005/06.