Introducing free parking on Saturday afternoon to Newton Abbot could cast a ‘£100,000 black cloud’ over Teignbridge District Council’s finances.
At a recent full council meeting, Cllr Gordon Hook, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, called for the free parking to be extended to Saturday’s afternoons to help boost trade in the town, saying that the town is ‘currently deserted on a Saturday afternoon’.
But Cllr Jeremy Christophers, the Conservative leader of the council, said that having asked officers to run the finances of the proposal, it could end up costing the council nearly £100,000 – £30,000 more than the surplus the council received over the summer against its predicted income.
Cllr Christophers said: “Car parking revenue has enjoyed a bumper year because the sun was shining, showing a surplus of £70,000, with income which has been generated in the coastal resorts of Dawlish and Teignmouth
“But Cllr Hook, who described Newton Abbot as a ‘ghost town’, would gamble on the sun shining every year, to give Newton Abbot a leg-up at the expense of every other town in district.
“The Parking Service Department estimate costs of implementation in Newton Abbot alone to be £94,000. If he wants to roll out free parking on Saturday across the entire district, then how much would that cost and how would it be funded? It is reckless to make promises based on the sun shining and we make decisions based on evidence.”
Figures shown to the Local Democracy Reporting Service reveal that £60,405.20 was the income from car parking tickets in Newton Abbot after 2pm on Saturday’s in 2017/18. A further £18,511.50 was spent on all-day tickets, while it would cost £456 to reconfigure the machines to cope with the tariff changes and it would cost £15,000 to re-advertise any changes under an Off Street Parking Places Order.
Cllr Christophers added: “If we grant this concession we may then have to also consider requests for the same concession from other Town and Parishes throughout the District.
“Teignbridge already provides some of the best value parking anywhere in the Westcountry. Where Newton Abbot is concerned, it is popular with visitors and residents in neighbouring area’s such as Paignton and Torquay who are taking advantage of the better travel times on the South Devon Highway.
“We are continuing our investment in Newton Abbot’s transformation and this is attracting increased numbers of customers, both day and night. They don’t need cheap gimmicks to bring them to the town, as they are coming because increasingly it is proving to be a great place to be.”
At a recent executive meeting, it was revealed the council’s 2018/19 budget is set for a £36,840 underspend and that an extra £70,000 of car parking income over the summer had been raised.
Cllr Hook said: “I want to offer ideas for spending the £70,000 surplus we have from car parking income. Newton Abbot in particular, and maybe Teignmouth and Dawlish would benefit from us extending the free car parking offer on Sunday to Saturday afternoons.
“Newton Abbot is currently deserted on a Saturday afternoon but very busy on Saturday mornings, so one way to get more business into Newton Abbot is to extend the free parking offer to Saturday afternoons. I am sure the traders would benefit from it. I don’t know whether it is a realistic proposition, but it is worth considering.”
Martin Phillips, the council’s chief finance officer, told the committee that the increase is due to higher visitor numbers and good weather experienced over the summer, adding: “I can’t predict the weather for next year, so I don’t know what the projection for next year would be.”
Currently, all Teignbridge District Council owned car parks are free to park in on Sundays, and Cllr Christophers added: “The £70,000 surplus was down the sunshine and people spending time in the seaside towns, so it would be robbing Peter to pay Paul and taking money from Teignmouth and Dawlish to give to Newton Abbot.”