East Herts Council set to axe free parking on Sundays
Free Sunday parking in Bishop's Stortford faces the axe as East Herts Council battles to balance its budget.
As the district authority contemplates a £3m black hole in its budget by 2027, Cllr Geoffrey Williamson, its executive member for financial sustainability, said "difficult choices" were necessary.
As part of its 2020-21 savings proposals, the council agreed to introduce a flat rate £1 fee on Sundays which is set to "go live" in October this year. However, the council now says it is considering introducing Sunday charging "at usual rates across all council car parks to generate extra income to help support local services".
Currently, charging for the 1,594 spaces in its nine Bishop's Stortford town centre car parks applies only from Mondays to Saturdays, between 7.30am and 6.30pm, with the first 30 minutes free and a full day costing a maximum of £4.40. The council is currently constructing a 546-space multi-storey at Northgate End. Any changes have to follow public consultation.
The Government has announced that the "core spending power" of local authorities will increase by an average of 4%, which includes a maximum £5 council tax increase. However, for East Herts, the increase in core spending power is just 0.03%.
The £5 hike on the table – a below-inflation rise of 2.9% overall – means East Herts Council's precept for band D households in 2022-23 will be £184 from April.
Cllr Williamson said: "We have to make some difficult choices to keep us on a sustainable financial footing in what has been another challenging year for the public purse.
"With increasing uncertainty ahead, we're doing everything we can to find new ways of saving money and generating income, whilst aiming to protect the services our residents rely on most and providing value for money.
"We're proud of what we've achieved this year – including our unveiling of the new Grange Paddocks Leisure Centre and the support we've been able to provide to local businesses through the pandemic. That investment in our communities will continue as we deliver the new culture, leisure and employment opportunities our residents want to see now and for the future."
He said that the council remained ambitious for the future, despite growing spending pressures fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic. The five-year capital spending programme sets aside over £90m for investment including regeneration of Old River Lane in Bishop's Stortford to deliver a new arts centre, shops and homes; a revamped theatre, public space and dedicated cinemas for Hertford; and the continued redevelopment of Hartham Leisure Centre.
He said that the council was continuing efforts to transform how it delivers services, focused on improved ways of working to generate savings of £1m over the next two years. This will include better use of technology to create online access to services.
East Herts Council keeps 10p of every £1 each household pays in council tax and, for an average of £3.54 a week, is responsible for leisure, some parks and playgrounds; parking; housing benefit and welfare services; preventing homelessness; housing strategy; environmental health; licensing; development control; local tax collection; and elections.
The remainder goes to Hertfordshire County Council for services including fire and rescue, roads, schools and social care; the office of Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner to fund the county's constabulary; and town and parish councils.
East Herts' audit and governance committee will consider the budget proposals next Tuesday (Jan 25) ahead of a full council meeting on March 1.