Leeds City Council has been accused of making a “spectacular U-turn” after scrapping controversial plans to introduce parking charges in town centre car parks.
It follows pressure from the opposition councillors, who claimed introducing the charges would harm the city’s already-struggling town centre businesses.
Plans to see charging introduced at three car parks in Guiseley, Wetherby and Garforth had been included in the authority’s draft budget proposals, published late last year, and were expected to generate the authority an extra £200,000-a-year.
But the council’s final budget proposals released today show the charges are no longer part of the authority’s proposed final budget for 2019/20, set to go before decision-makers next week.
The authority’s head of transport said the changes show the council has listened to local residents, and that the charges were only proposed due to cuts from central government.
A report set to go before executive board members next Wednesday simply states: “The proposal to implement charging at District Car Parks is now no longer in the budget submission.”
The leader of the council’s opposition Conservative group welcomed the changes, having pressured the council to drop the proposals since they were first mooted last month, but warned such plans could return in future.
Coun Andrew Carter said: “This is a welcome if spectacular U-Turn.
“As soon as the council proposed introducing parking charges into town and district centres, we were very clear about the damage they would cause and called for their immediate removal from the final budget.
“We therefore welcome the fact that the council appears to have listened and done a U-Turn by taking these proposed charges out of their budget plans. It shows that we were right to make the case against charging, speaking up for local people and local businesses.
“Parking charges would risk causing untold damage to our town and village centre economies at a time when the council should be doing everything they can to support local business.
“Whilst it seems that charges will not be introduced in this year’s budget, we must remain vigilant: now we know what the administration was thinking about doing, the idea could return at any time.
“Knowing the way their administration operates we will do all we can to make sure they do not bring it back when they think they can get away with it.”
Coun Richard Lewis, the council’s executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, said: “After listening to feedback from local residents we have decided to not introduce charging at these district car parks in this year’s budget.
“Unfortunately under nine years of austerity imposed by this Government, including another £266m of cuts this year, we have to consider all options when it comes to looking at our budget and it would be irresponsible to dismiss anything out of hand.
“While we continue to face such harsh cuts and an ever increasing funding gap for running vital services, we have to look at all options to find the resources to keep funding services.”
The decision follows a meeting of full council last month, at which the Labour group was heavily criticised for proposing the charges.
Liberal Democrat councillor Carmel Harrison told the meeting the charges were a “mean-spirited, expensive and unimaginative way of hitting shoppers financially.”
But the authority’s head of transport and planning Coun Richard Lewis (Lab) had a motion passed, which stated: “Council recognises that in some instances subject to consultation the use of charges at council-owned sites is an appropriate measure to help improve the overall turnover of parking spaces to ensure their availability for customers of local businesses.”
During the meeting he added: “We should stop talking in a stupid way – none of us want to impose parking charges but there are very few places we can go.”
Leeds City Council’s final budget proposals will go before the authority’s executive board on Wednesday, February 16.