Plans to introduce car parking charges in a market town have sparked fear and anger amongst business owners.

Three hours of free parking is currently available in car parks in towns and villages throughout the Babergh district, including Hadleigh, Sudbury and Lavenham.

The cost of subsidising the free parking cost Babergh District Council about £425,000 last year and it is set to increase this year, the local authority said.

East Anglian Daily Times: Hadleigh High StreetHadleigh High Street (Image: Kathryn Grandon)

The council, which is facing a budget gap of £1.5million, says it can no longer afford to fund the subsidy if it is to continue to deliver other essential services.

Kathryn Grandon, who represents Hadleigh South on Babergh District Council, said a survey of Hadleigh High Street businesses found 94.6% said the three hours of free parking currently in place is 'very important' for their business, while 62.5% felt the introduction of any level of parking fees would have a 'very negative' impact. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Cllr Kathryn GrandonCllr Kathryn Grandon (Image: Babergh District Council)

The survey, carried out by Ms Grandon alongside her fellow Hadleigh District Councillors Jane Carruthers and Simon Dowling in January, also found that 80% of businesses considered that the fact that Babergh pays business rates on its car parks is irrelevant.

Ms Grandon said: "While Hadleigh High Street and Friday market appears to be thriving, there are a significant number of businesses for whom a small reduction in sales could be the difference between viability and otherwise.

"Hadleigh, Sudbury and Lavenham do not have problems with air pollution or congestion from cars; we want to encourage locals and visitors to come to our towns and villages, to linger and enjoy our shops, hospitality and facilities." 

East Anglian Daily Times: Huffers Cafe and Restaurant in HadleighHuffers Cafe and Restaurant in Hadleigh (Image: Google maps)

Mekin Erol, owner of Huffers Cafe in Hadleigh, added: “I’m very concerned that if the council introduce parking charges, it will negatively impact the high street. It will affect visitors to the town and may put them off coming to Hadleigh.

"There is cost of living crisis and this will put people off spending. Hospitality in general is suffering at the moment, and I feel people will be put off staying for a meal because of the charges.

"I don’t think this is the right time to be doing this and feel like they don’t care about the businesses of Hadleigh."

East Anglian Daily Times: Yarn Worx in HadleighYarn Worx in Hadleigh (Image: Google maps)

And Gavin Alexander, co-owner of Yarn Worx, in Hadleigh High Street, said: "Whilst I understand that Babergh has a large financial hole to fill due to the way the car parks are currently being operated, I strongly believe that in doing so, this will drive visitors away from the shopping areas, causing many already struggling small businesses to close down."

A survey of drivers using Babergh car parks also took place in January, and Ms Grandon said over two thirds answered that they would be less likely to use a Babergh car park if there was charging from the time of arrival, with many saying they would park elsewhere for free, such as on streets, or visit a different destination.

An official petition against the changes, which comprised of online and paper petitions in Sudbury, Lavenham and Hadleigh, gained 10,500 signatures.

On January 9, Babergh District Council cabinet voted to go ahead with consultation into the proposal.

The feedback will then help inform the design of any new tariff scheme ahead of the full proposals going back to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on March 18.  

The joint parking strategy for Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils was agreed in September 2022, based on feedback from residents, town and parish councils and community groups.

As part of the strategy consultation, 58% of respondents said they supported, or strongly supported, the introduction of flexible parking tariffs, particularly if regularly benchmarked to reflect the economy of the local area. 

A Babergh District Council spokesperson said the council is facing "significant budget pressures" and can no longer afford to subsidise free parking.

"The proposal is to introduce modest, revised tariffs in council-run car parks which will be as low as possible compared to other local councils, so that we can continue to attract visitors and remove the burden of ‘free’ parking being subsidised by all taxpayers, including non-motorists, whether they use the car parks or not," they said.

"We do not believe the success of town centres is defined by parking charges alone, but we recognise there is concern about this proposal and that there are challenges – one size is unlikely to ‘fit all’. 

"That is why we are talking not only to the town and parish councils directly affected, but to all our town and parish councils and other recognised groups to come up with the best solution for all."