Tensions were high at a Hadleigh Town Council meeting with more than 20 residents turning up expecting to discuss planned parking charges.

While parking charges were not on the agenda for full council as these had been discussed in January and February, residents had planned to use the public forum to raise their concerns, but some felt they were discouraged from speaking.

There is currently three hours free parking in the town, but funding pressures have led Babergh District Council to seek new charges of £1 for short stay parking for the first hour or £1 for two hours in long stay.

East Anglian Daily Times:

Kay Booth, owner of Hadleigh’s newsagents and stationers, Keith Avis, was at the meeting and said: “The Town Clerk and two councillors on the door very clearly did not want us to come in. I have no idea why.

"I agree parking was not on the agenda - personally I think it should have been and Hadleigh Town Council should have been inviting people to give their views on an issue of this importance - but we had the 15-minute public slot in which to speak anyway.

“The councillors could not wait for us to finish and were straight into approving invoices, which presumably were on the agenda. I'm aware of quite a lot of bad feeling that our councillors do not appear to want to hear from us.

“We understand they have made a written submission to Babergh District Council, but there appears to be no energy or enthusiasm to do more.”

A statement posted on the Hadleigh Town Council website said: “A member of the public had posted on various Facebook groups that he had organised a community meeting in The Guild Room on Thursday, March 21 at 7pm to discuss the introduction of parking charges. This was misleading.

“The Town Clerk and two councillors met people outside the building and explained to everyone that the meeting was actually a Town Council meeting, and not a community meeting and that parking charges were not being discussed by us but they could come in and speak in the Public Forum but this is limited to 15-minutes with a maximum of three-minutes per person.

“23 people came to the meeting and two chose to sit in the public gallery and speak in the Public Forum. No one was turned away and people made their own choices on whether to attend the meeting.”

Local businesses and residents have opposed the new parking charges, suggesting they could harm the high street, and have demanded at least an hour of free parking.

Neil J. Bevis, who organised the meeting yesterday, said: “I have received numerous messages regarding parking charges in Hadleigh, and it's time to take action. We're creating an emergency group to fight for our High Street. Together, we can show our authorities how vital this issue is.”

The new tariffs would apply to council-run car parks, with existing on-street parking remaining unchanged and blue badge holders still able to park in the council’s car parks for free.

Hadleigh Town Council sent a letter to Babergh Council at the end of February, noting concerns about the parking charges.

The letter said: “Although only anecdotal evidence is available online it does indicate that introducing parking charges on High Streets does impact the shops and businesses and moves shoppers to out of town superstores and retail parks where parking is free.

"Retails parks are often filled with large businesses whereas the High Street in Hadleigh is filled with independent shops with many shops and business owners living in the town themselves.

“The impact on the mental and physical health of car park users has not been considered, many people (especially those of older age) visit the town centre more than once a week as they are not able to complete all errands or appointments on the same day.

"If people had to reduce their visits to the town for financial reasons then many would become socially isolated which is already an issue for a rural town such as Hadleigh.”

Babergh Council will make a final decision on the parking charges on Monday, April 8.

Babergh District Council leader, David Busby said: "We have said all along that we would rather not have to introduce short-term parking charges, and that if we have to do so, we will ensure that they are modest, fair, and that we take on board suggestions and feedback from the communities affected.

"There is no escaping the fact that we face a significant financial challenge ahead.  We have a total budget gap of £6.7m in the next four years, with only £2.4m of reserves available. Although the recommendations in this proposal help in part, they do not solve the whole problem. There will be further difficult decisions ahead."