Tariffs will be introduced in Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lavenham car parks as a council cabinet has approved a set of controversial plans, despite strong opposition. 

Parking in these areas is currently free for three hours, but Babergh District Council announced it could no longer subsidise free parking as it faces a £6.7million budget gap over the next four years.

It proposed an introduction of a £1 charge for short stay parking for the first hour or £1 for the first two hours in long stay parking, with tariffs then rising in 50p increments.

East Anglian Daily Times: Parking is currently free for three hoursParking is currently free for three hours (Image: Sarah Lucy Brown, Newsquest)

Plans also included a reduction in the cost of all day parking in Sudbury and Hadleigh from £3 to £2.50.

Babergh District Council's cabinet met on Monday to debate the matter, which acting leader John Ward called "probably the most divisive we've ever had". 

Some councillors expressed disappointment over the lack of free-parking options explored, including Simon Dowling, for Hadleigh North, who said: "In light of the evidently widespread objections by councillors, residents and businesses to the proposal as it stands, will cabinet please amend the proposal to allow one-hour free in all Babergh controlled car parks?"

But Mark Emms, director of operations and climate change, said including up to one hour free parking would cause a drop of about £150,000 of income.

Previously, Lavenham councillor Paul Clover voiced fears over the impact of charges saying they could 'kill retail' in the area. 

And Hadleigh South councillor Kathryn Grandon said businesses would suffer if visitor number were to drop as a result. 

An 8,000-strong petition against the tariffs was noted by the council in February.

During the meeting, Deborah Saw, who represents North West Cosford, raised concerns over the cuts that could come if parking charges were not introduced.

East Anglian Daily Times: Councillor Deborah SawCouncillor Deborah Saw (Image: Babergh District Council)

She said: "I'm on record as saying I am not enamoured of charging for car parking, but I am also on record saying I am not prepared to see leisure centres limit their hours or even close.

"I am not prepared to see our funding for community groups that give advice for people who are in debt culled, or have problems with their landlord, I am not in favour of cutting that."

Alastair McCraw, for Brantham, said: "We face a financial situation over the next three years that this will only partly address. That responsibility is what we were elected for. I think the fears are unjustified."

East Anglian Daily Times: Councillor Alastair McCrawCouncillor Alastair McCraw (Image: Babergh District Council)

Under the plans, leisure centre users in Sudbury and Hadleigh would be reimbursed for their parking charges, as would shoppers at Roys in Sudbury.

Blue Badge holders would continue to be allowed to park for free for up to three hours in any bay of all public car parks.

Mr Emms said the council would engage with medical centres in Lavenham and Hadleigh, as well as a mobile screening facility in Sudbury, to set up virtual permit panels inside the facilities to allow those who are collecting prescriptions or attending appointments to get free parking.

Mr McCraw suggested an investigation into whether a CIC (Community Interest Company) could take on car parks should be carried out separately. 

Jessie Carter, for Sudbury North West, said the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce would be interested in looking into ways to take this on.

Earlier in the meeting Mr Emms said: "The issue of a CIC was raised to us from the Sudbury chamber. We looked into the issue of a CIC, we don't believe a CIC is possible or would work so we haven't engaged throughout the district on CICs." 

He said issues could arise with enforcement and assets.

East Anglian Daily Times: Councillor Jessie CarterCouncillor Jessie Carter (Image: Babergh District Council)

Ms Carter, seconded by Daniel Potter, for Orwell, proposed an amendment that one-hour free parking would be retained, but this was lost. 

The recommended parking tariffs, with an amendment adding that further discussions will take place with Lavenham Parish Council, were approved with six votes in favour and two against. 

Mr Ward said: "It hasn't been an easy decision and as you can see it was a majority not a unanimous vote.

"We do need to take into account the concerns of those who are worried about the possible impacts of what we are doing, but we will keep a very close watch on this as it progresses." 

The new charges are expected to bring in around £750K per year.

The additional funding could then go towards further car park improvements, enhanced on-street parking enforcement and sustainable travel.