Campaigners fighting moves to introduce parking charges in parts of North Somerset received a glimmer of hope – after council leader Nigel Ashton raised fears the fees could damage local communities.
North Somerset Council strategic planning and economic development (SPED) scrutiny panel is investigating the possibility of introducing charging for parking in Clevedon, Nailsea and Portishead.
Areas identified for possible charging including The Esplanade and Roath Road in Portishead, The Beach and surrounding roads in Clevedon and town centre car parks in Nailsea.
But the move has prompted outcry from local businesses and residents who say charging would have a detrimental impact on the three towns.
They say it would force motorists onto residential roads or to the larger shopping malls of Cribbs Causeway where parking is free.
The SPED panel started to investigate the possibility of introducing charging in the northern sector of the district following the introduction of an on street parking scheme in Weston-super-Mare.
The scheme, which saw parking meters installed on 28 streets on the town centre, was introduced in November a bid to free up space for shoppers and visitors.
Mr Ashton said parking charges would only work in some areas and although the SPED panel was looking at ideas, it did not mean they would be implemented.
Mr Ashton said: “I am usually against charges unless they are specifically to increase footfall to our shops or to get a small contribution to North Somerset costs from visitors, especially when we have major tourist attractions, which are nearly always in Weston.
“By definition, charges would only work in certain areas before creating problems for local residents on whose behalf we are working.
“Sped, like all scrutiny panels, is entitled to look at any issue they wish and often come up with very helpful suggestions.”
Mr Ashton added the authority was faced with making difficult and unpopular decisions to save £91 million from its budgets over the next seven years.
But he added looking to raise money from parking charges would be a “risky” strategy.
He added: “We are at the beginning of the third year of at least seven years of government cut backs and every council will have to do things they are not happy with.
“Looking at a wide range of issues is inevitable but does not mean we are going to implement them all. To base a difficult budget on the hope of collecting more money from car parking charges would be very risky.
“Some say that charges should be in every town because we have it in Weston. That is not a logical or sound business reason.
“What works on Weston seafront, where most visitors would expect to pay something, or by the shopping centre to allow quicker turnover of shoppers, would not work in the small towns.”
“Additional charges are not included in the budget, so there was clearly no intention of introducing them this year.”
Mr Ashton said due to budget pressures, charging could not be ruled out permanently.
He said: “Government actions mean that nothing can be ruled out forever but I think it would be more honest to put a small increase on council tax than to put in blanket car parking charges. It wouldn't work, it would threaten small businesses and shops and local communities, we will be receiving some of the rates that businesses pay in future and its better for everyone if we have a thriving economy.”
The SPED panel has agreed to carry out further work on investigating introducing parking charges in the three towns.
But a decision on whether to take charging schemes forward lies with the council’s executive.