Wokingham Borough Council takes the next step in increasing car parking fees. The council has drawn up a draft traffic regulation order to allow a change to the current arrangements, which is being put forward to offset an expected shortfall from parking charges and keep up highway maintenance without affecting other frontline services.
As part of this process, it will publish a notice of the proposed increases and take objections to the proposals before putting the order into effect. The proposed increase has already been agreed by the council's executive and examined by its overview and scrutiny management committee, which found no reason to pass it back for further discussion.
The expected deficit has been caused partly by increased home working after the covid-19 pandemic and the council doesn't expect this to change soon. Its proposals will allow it to maintain roads and pavements and other routes while continuing to fund services used by more vulnerable residents.
Leader of the council, Cllr Clive Jones, said: “No one wants to raise car parking charges – of course we don’t. But, we are in a very serious financial position and we need to do the right thing to keep the council afloat and keep our services up and running."
Balancing the books to protect those in need
Unlike many other local authorities, the council hasn't increased off-street parking charges since April 2018 and they have remained among the lowest in the local area and regionally.
They will remain competitive compared with similar areas, many of which have passed similar rises. Following comments before the executive meeting, the council amended the proposal so the increase would be lower outside Wokingham town.
Despite facing unprecedented financial pressures, with costs spiralling upward and sources of income largely fixed or dropping, the council is committed to helping people through the cost of living crisis. Raising car parking charges means that other funds available to the council won’t need to be used to plug the hole in the highways budget.
Spending wisely to look after everyone
Cllr Paul Fishwick, executive member for active travel, transport and highways, said: “We took people's feedback on board before agreeing the increase, and we promise we'll listen to you again when we consult on the traffic regulation order.
“We've got to be realistic - we have to make up the shortfall somehow and keeping parking charges at the current level isn't an option. However, we were able to amend the proposal when you last shared your concerns - and if you identify further changes that might be feasible, we'll do what we can.
“For reasons beyond our control, our finances are increasingly limited and we have to increase car parking charges to protect our road network. As a council, we will always choose to help people, to prioritise those who would otherwise struggle to heat their homes, feed their children and keep a roof over their heads. It's never easy to make unpopular decisions, but we firmly believe it's the right one.”
Calling out ‘fake news’
Cllr Fishwick added: “There have been claims on social media recently about the reason for the increases which are ‘fake news’. The Mereoak and Winnersh Triangle Park and Ride services are not running at a loss of £600,000 this year and we are not making these car parking charge increases to cover that non-existent £600K loss.
“Both Park and Rides are under an agreement with Reading Borough Council where we equally share any profits or losses to the two sites. In the past, we would both make a small profit from these. We did lose some money from them during Covid, but that was less than £40,000 shared evenly between both councils. This year, we expect to break even.”
What’s being proposed
Under the proposal, the daytime charging period for all off-street council owned car parks would increase from the current times of 8am until 6pm, Monday to Saturday, to between 6am and 10pm, Monday to Sunday.
Between 6pm and 10pm, users would pay £1 for an hour's parking and £2 for more, while parking overnight between 10pm and 6am would be free using a ticket from the pay and display machines.
In Wokingham town car parks, the daytime increase would be from 80p to £1.30 (up to an hour), from £1.20 to £2.50 (up to two hours), from £2 to £4.50 (up to four hours), from £3 to £6.50 (up to six hours), and from £4 to £9 (over six hours).
Increases would also apply to market traders using Cockpit Path car park and there will be a new overnight residents' permit, available to all residents to park in council car parks overnight.
Outside Wokingham town, daytime charges at all other car parks would increase from various rates to 60p (up to 30 minutes, Headley Road in Woodley only), £1 (up to an hour), £2 (up to two hours), £4 (up to four hours), £6 (up to six hours) and £8 (over six hours).
Increases would also apply to market traders using Headley Road car park and there will be a new overnight residents' permit, available to all residents to park in council car parks overnight. More details are available on the council's website.
The rise would come into effect from spring at the earliest. The draft traffic regulation order will be published on the council’s website on Friday 16 December and can be viewed by visiting www.wokingham.gov.uk and searching ‘traffic regulation order’. The deadline for responses is Sunday, 29 January 2023.