Debate continues into car parking charges in Thetford, Dereham, Swaffham, Watton and Attleborough

Doubts have been raised by councillors at a decision to carry out a feasibility study into the possibility of parking charges in Breckland's market towns.

The decision to undertake the study at a cost of �25,000 was made at a recent cabinet meeting, but the issue was brought before Breckland full council at a meeting yesterday.

While several councillors agreed the study was necessary to provide as much information as possible, others argued now was not the time to be introducing the idea.

Robin Goreham, former Labour party leader, and Dereham central ward councillor, described the situation as a 'hot potato' and used his town as an example.

He added: 'Despite the obvious economic problems which prevail, I honestly believe Dereham in many respects has never been more vibrant but I believe this to be down to the free accessibly for shops and business people and other visitors.

'The general ethos of free parking should, in my view, continue for Dereham and other market towns. I understand the pressures at the moment but I don't think this is the time.'

Watton ward councillor, and Independent member, Keith Gilbert added: 'What we'd like to propose we have is a full, open, and free debate of this council on whether we would ever or not accept the principle of car parking charges. 'If there isn't the will of the members why are we taking this out for study? I think we should put this on hold until we can have a free debate.'

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The idea of introducing car parking charges was mooted late last year, and earlier this month Breckland councillors agreed during a cabinet meeting to spend up to �25,000 on a feasibility study.

This could lead to motorists being forced to pay to park in market towns across the district. At yesterday's meeting however Breckland chief executive Terry Huggins reinforced the need for the study.

'Perhaps I should put in context what I'm recommending,' he said. 'The autumn statement from the chancellor made it very clear we're facing reductions in the public expenditure until at least 2016 and all local authorities will face a considerable reduction of funding from central government.

'We all need to consider some options and some of which I'm sure further down the line will be unpalatable to us. 'What I don't want to happen is to be asked by members about parking and not know the answers. Because we don't charge for our car parks we don't have a bank of knowledge about people and their use and what people think about charging and we need to put a little bit of investment in now to make sure we've got that in hand.'

Leader of the council, William Nunn, added: 'This is about getting the right solution for the people of the district. I accept it's an uncomfortable situation we have to look at but I think there's a raft of opinions which will come forward from this review.'

Some councillors agreed the council should be in possession of all the facts before making a decision, as Upper Yare ward councillor, Cliff Jordan pointed out. 'I'm not in favour of car parking charges but cars change and people change,' he said.

'More people drive now and we know we can't provide more car parks so the ones we've got have got to work harder. We've got to ask the public what they want - I thought that's what we were good at. 'If not, we're excluding them and saying we know best. I think we should go forward with this survey.'

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