Free parking plan for Hartlepool is thrown out amid fears it could cost council £800,000

Richard Royal with the parking petition.
Richard Royal with the parking petition.

Council chiefs have dismissed a 517-strong petition for them to offer a two-hour free parking period in local authority car parks - as up to £800,000 a year would be lost if such a scheme was introduced.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s Neighbourhood Services Committee considered a petition requesting the introduction of two hours’ free parking in a bid to boost trade and footfall in the town centre.

We can’t afford to lose that amount of money with the budget cuts that are coming through with this Government and the business rates we’ve lost from the power station.

Coun Peter Jackson

The petition was launched by Conservative Party candidate Richard Royal during his election campaign, as he felt Hartlepool could benefit from free parking as Middlesbrough did.

Middlesbrough saw a 128 per cent increase in usage of its car parks and a decline in vacant shopping units when it launched the shopper-friendly initiative in 2012.

But the meeting heard that over the same period, Hartlepool’s commercial property occupancy increased, “so any comparison with the parking charges [in Middlesbrough] may be coincidental”.

Alastair Smith, assistant director of neighbourhood for the council, told the meeting the total income from car parking last year totalled £1.3m and the impact of a free two-hour parking initiative is estimated to see a reduction in the actual income collected of between £650,000 and £800,000.

Councillors Jim Ainslie, Steve Gibbon and Peter Jackson all believed the loss was too big a price to pay in the current climate of financial pressures and budget cuts.

And the committee accepted the council officer’s report that the move should not go ahead.

Coun Gibbon, of the Putting Hartlepool First party, said: “One thing that concerns me is the loss of revenue to the council. Any revenue that the council loses needs to be recouped from somewhere else.”

Labour representative Coun Jackson agreed, saying: “I fully support the recommendations in the report.

“We can’t afford to lose that amount of money with the budget cuts that are coming through with this Government and the business rates we’ve lost from the power station.

“I don’t think we can add this onto the deficit. I don’t believe this council can handle that amount of deficit on top of what we’ve already got.”

And Coun Ainslie, also from the Labour party, added: “I fully endorse what Coun Jackson has just said and I will certainly be voting to retain the parking charges. We would be creating a big hole in this year’s budget.”

The 2014/15 income from car parking charges for the shopping centre sites totalled £490,000 alone.

The report from the meeting highlighted the financial pressures on the council stating that it will need to make further budget cuts in 2016/17 to 2018/19 of £14m.