With inflation at its highest in about 40 years and energy costs continuing to spiral upwards, Wokingham Borough Council is facing unprecedented financial pressure.
Cllr Clive Jones, leader of the council, said: “All our services are under pressure due to rising costs, which is making us look very hard at everything we do to see if we can make any savings and whether we could raise more revenue. We need to do this to ensure we have enough to protect the most vulnerable in our community.”
The council's decision-making executive is set to discuss a proposed increase in car park charges to ensure it can sustain highway services that borough residents have benefited from over the last few years without impacting on other areas. This would offset an expected shortfall of up to £800,000 in parking revenue for this financial year, caused in part by changing habits due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Keeping pace with other parts of the country
Unlike many other local authorities, the council hasn't increased off-street parking charges since 2018 and they have remained among the lowest both in the local area and regionally.
This means the fees haven't kept pace with inflation, unlike those for other council services. Additionally, fewer people have been using car parks since covid-19, with many still working from home at least some of the time.
"We know these proposed increases won't prove popular, particularly when there's pressure on all kinds of living costs, but our parking fees have been exceptionally low for a long time and we can't afford to keep them where they are,” continued Cllr Jones.
The change would bring the borough's charges in line with similar authorities across the South-East and they would remain cheaper than some car parks in neighbouring areas including Bracknell Forest, Windsor & Maidenhead, Reading and Basingstoke.
A tough decision to protect our quality of life
“Residents expect their roads and footways to be surfaced and maintained to a high standard,” said Cllr Paul Fishwick, executive member for active travel, transport and highways, “but we can only keep it up if we've got the money - and with our car parking fees set so low and fewer people using car parks, we just don't have the income we need.
“This proposal won't actually bring in more money than we had before. It will simply get us back where we need to be and offset inflation and the impact of the pandemic.”
The charging period in car parks would be extended to between 6am and 10pm from Monday to Sunday, where previously it was 8am until 6pm from Monday to Saturday. There would be no charge overnight although motorists would need to collect a free vend ticket to register their vehicle, which the police have requested.
Charges would increase as follows - up to one hour, from 80p to £1.30; up to two hours, from £1.20 to £2.50; up to four hours, from £2 to £4.50; up to six hours, from £3 to £6.50; over six hours, from £4 to £9. Market traders would pay £6.50 for an extended day at Cockpit Path car park instead of £4.
Season tickets would be charged as follows - one month, from £82.23 to £168.50; three months, from £240.35 to £506.50; six months, from £450.34 to £1,013; 12 months, from £900.68 to £2,026. An overnight 12-month season ticket, previously £292, would be free of charge.
The news comes as the council has affirmed its commitment to protecting its most vulnerable residents despite unprecedented financial pressures.
More from Wokingham Borough Council
Stay connected to the communities around you. Enjoy the latest news, updates and highlights straight in your inbox. Subscribe to our Wokingham Borough Connect newsletters now.