Strong opposition from Breckland market towns against proposed car parking charges

Thousands of people across Breckland have signed petitions against proposals to introduce parking charges in market towns across the district.

An online petition was set up by the Breckland Labour Group on December 15, which has attracted just over 1,200 signatures, another was started by Watton Chamber of Trade last week in High Street businesses which has currently got just over 4,000 signatures, and Dereham resident Maria Almeida, 42, started another petition on Friday which has about 600 signatures.

Breckland councillors agreed during a cabinet meeting last week to spend up to �25,000 on a feasibility study, and this could lead to motorists being forced to pay to park on market towns across the district.

Terry Huggins, chief executive of the council, said: 'At this time we cannot say how the introduction of charges will compare with other alternatives. What I can say is that no decision will be made without a dialogue and consideration of the points being made by residents and businesses.'

He added that the council did not have the past experience regarding charging for car parking, which would enable them to make an 'informed decision'.

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The controversial issue was discussed by Watton Town Council last night, where the majority of its members opposed the charges, and following a Swaffham Business Forum meeting, also last night, members agreed to put up opposition posters in shop windows in the town from next week. A petition might also be started in Swaffham.

Miss Almeida has been collecting the signatures from Monday to Friday from 10am to 12.30pm, in Dereham's Cherry Tree Car Park.

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She said: 'Businesses say charging for parking will be a disaster. People say they come to Dereham because of the free parking. People are not happy about it.'

Before the town council meeting Michael Wassell, ward councillor for Watton and mayor of the town, said: 'I understand people's concerns because it is an emotive subject. You have got to have a realisation that some how these things have got to be paid for. Car parking is not free, it is paid for by Breckland council tax payers.

'Instinctively I don't want to pay for parking but some how the budget has got to be managed.'

But Watton town councillor and independent Breckland councillor, Keith Gilbert, said: 'I'm totally against charging for car parking. We have debated this at Breckland on several occasions in my time and it was always overwhelmingly the feeling that we should not charge for car parking. I have not spoken to one person who is in favour of it.'

After the Swaffham Business Forum meeting, chairman Chris Parsons said: 'The principle concern is to protect the vitality of the town centre.'

Before the discussion took place Shirley Matthews, ward councillor for Swaffham and town mayor, said: 'We have to look at it (car parking charges) because of the current economic situation. We are not allowed to increase the council tax and have to look at everything else, and if the figures show we don't have to charge then that is good.

'I'm not happy about charging. As far as I'm concerned it may be an evil necessity.'

The Swaffham opposition poster can be obtained by ringing Kate Francis, project officer of the Swaffham Action Group, on 01760 722800.

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