Bim Afolami, the MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has criticised North Herts Council for "mixed messages" after deciding to increase parking charges in Hitchin.

The council recently agreed a spending plan that will see parking charges rise by an average of two per cent each year. In Hitchin, one-hour tariffs are rising by 10p while the most expensive tariffs have been frozen.

The council said that it is increasing charges for shorter stays to encourage people to stay for longer in town. But Mr Afolami has pointed out that the reason given for introducing charges for EVs is that they were "staying for too long" in spaces with charging facilities.

The MP described the decision to introduce new charges for electric vehicles (EVs) as "bizarre" after the council had previously justified increases as a way to promote more environmentally-friendly transport.

Last month, Mr Afolami called on the council to reduce parking charges in Hitchin rather than go ahead with the planned increase. Now, he has blasted the council's leadership for lacking “the courage of their convictions to be honest” about the charges.

Mr Afolami said: “Politics is a tough business that requires tough choices.

"The public understand that – and they deserve the respect of an honest conversation about those choices.

"Labour and the Liberal Democrats have spun themselves into a knot trying to avoid having that conversation around parking charges, when it is clear that the reason parking charges are going up is to fund their political agenda for our communities.

“It’s now time for them to come clean and admit it – they aren’t putting parking charges up because they think it will make people make better choices for the environment; they aren’t putting them up to try and get people to stay in town longer; they are putting them up because they can and because doing so will bring in more money for them to spend on juicy election promises so that they can keep hold of power at next May’s all-out council elections.

READ MORE: 20mph zone planned for central Hitchin

“Alongside our Conservative team, I’ll always be honest with you about the tough choices we face – and we’ll put people and businesses in Hitchin and the villages first in everything we do."

Cllr Ruth Brown, North Herts Council's executive member for transport and planning, responded to Mr Afolami's comments: "We have revised our car parking tariffs in order to effectively manage the use of our car parks.

"Car parking tariffs reflect the cost of running the car parks and the impact of inflation on that, managing car park use, and encouraging the shift away from private car use.

"The increased parking fees will help with maintaining our car parks.

"We will also be investing in our car parks to give residents more options on contactless and cashless payment methods to make it easier to reflect changes in how people are choosing to pay for their parking.

"The forecast overall increase of 2.4 per cent in parking revenue to the council is well below inflation [running at 6.7 per cent in the 12 months to August 2023].

"Even with the tariff increases, the council will still see a reduction in revenue in real terms.

"The [council] cabinet resolution to permit charging for parking in EV charging bays gives the council the freedom to manage use of the new chargepoints it is preparing to install.

"We know that a common source of complaints by EV owners is where EV chargepoints are blocked by vehicles overstaying.

"As a local authority, we recognise that the climate emergency is an immediate and ever-growing threat and that’s why within our own power, we’re striving to deliver plans to achieve net zero carbon in North Herts by 2030.”

Cllr Brown said that "a successful sustainable transport strategy requires a careful balancing of the costs of parking relative to public transport", and pointed out that uncapped bus and rail fares have been increasing in line with inflation.

She added that the council's cabinet was "perplexed" and "deeply disappointed" by the government's decision to delay the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030 to 2035.