Transport councillor: ‘It was pretty stupid’ not to hold Hitchin parking charges meeting

Councillor Cunningham spoke at a public meeting to discuss parking charges in Hitchin

Councillor Cunningham spoke at a public meeting to discuss parking charges in Hitchin - Credit: Daniel Wilson

The councillor behind proposals to extend parking charges in Hitchin to include evenings and Sundays admitted last night it was ‘pretty stupid’ not to have held a public meeting to discuss the plans.

Councillor Julian Cunningham, who is responsible for transport issues at North Herts District Council, explained at an informal meeting of the Hitchin area committee that with the benefit of hindsight he should have held a public consultation.

So far councillors in the town and a variety of groups have been asked for their feedback, but not the general public – with a petition against the proposals gaining more than 2,000 signatures.

If agreed, the proposals would see an overnight charge introduced at council-owned car parks from 6pm-8am, a Sunday charge, and increased prices in the daytime.

Mr Cunningham said at the meeting that he needs to raise 16.6 per cent income – equating to £240,000 – across the district from parking charges – with £160,000 of that needed to be found in Hitchin.

Speaking at the public meeting at Hitchin Boys’ School, he said: “With the benefit of hindsight it was pretty stupid not to have this meeting and it is sensible to have this consultation.

“We could have raised station car parking charges 30 per cent but it would have caused total and utter chaos on surrounding streets. People who travel out of the district are not contributing as much as people who work in the district. I am sympathetic to that point of view.

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“We were trying to come up with an answer to protect our High Street. I promise you I am not picking on Hitchin. If the Hitchin trial is successful, I give you my word it will be applied in Letchworth and Baldock.

“Our view is we have to trial it where the result will be meaningful because of the number of people who use the car parks and that is Hitchin. My primary indicator are the number of people paying as much as we assumed for parking.

“Of course we know there would be an impact on Hitchin businesses. It is perfectly possible one or two may be affected.

“If the resistance is large we will need to find another way to find the 16.6 per cent. The last result I would want to achieve is to drive people out of car parks and jam up the rest of Hitchin.

“I don’t know what the impact will be – if it is a catastrophe we will stop it.”

The trial was initially due to start next month and run through to April 2015, but Mr Cunningham said he now didn’t expect any proposals to be brought in until January,

A spokesman for the Hitchin Initiative said: “The Hitchin pilot is not fair and equal. We are vehemently opposed to evening and Sunday charging.

“We absolutely do not want the pilot or trial of these proposed evening and Sunday parking tariffs. We have a volume of concern and believe a few of the more marginal businesses would fail. It’s not just that ‘it’s a pound’ increase – we know people vary their behaviour to avoid them.”