Call for lower fees at ‘long stay’ Bexhill, Battle and Rye car parks

A group of Rother councillors have called for lower fees at a number of car parks in the district. 

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 11:48 am

On Monday (April 26), Rother District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee considered a report from a task and finish group set the job of looking into the impact of the district’s recently-introduced parking charges on its off-street car parks.

Charges for on-street parking were introduced in September last year, as East Sussex County Council began parking enforcement within the district. At around the same time, the district council introduced charges at a number of its own, formerly free, off-street car parks.

While the group made several recommendations, it was noted that the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions had likely skewed the evidence. 

Gibbets Marsh car park, Rye.

Addressing this point, neighbourhood services manager Deborah Kenneally said: “Analysis of the car park data between the period of November 2020 to February 2021 demonstrates that most RDC car parks showed a year-on-year drop in use, of between 50 per cent and 75 per cent against the same period in 2019. 

“Only [the car park at] Camber Sands defied this trend showing an increase in income of 7.5 per cent.”

Among the group’s recommendations were that some of the council’s car parks should be designated as long stay, with lower charges to encourage their use. These would be the Wainwright Road car park in Bexhill, the Gibbets Marsh car park in Rye and the Lower Market car park in Battle. 

The group recommended that the daily parking charge for Wainwright Road and Gibbets Marsh be reduced from £5 to £2 per day, with the Lower Market car park charge to be reduced to £3 per day.

The group is also recommending that new signs be put up to direct visitors to these car parks. 

According to council papers, the revenue derived from these three car parks was £60,845 in 2019. If their use does not increase, the lower price would be expected to cost the council around £18,300 a year, officers said.

However, this was disputed by Cllr Gennette Stevens (Con), who said: “These car parks that we want to reduce [charges at] are underused. I walk round Gibbets Marsh nearly every day with my dog and there are hardly any cars in there. 

“I can’t see how there would be a loss of income, because once people know it is cheaper more people will use it. Even if you get three times more cars in there, you are doubling your money anyway.”

Another recommendation from the group was to standardise the times when car parks charge for parking. These should start at 8am and finish at 7pm, the group said.

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The task and finish group also highlighted concerns surrounding charges at the Manor Garden Car Park, off of De La Warr Road.

Formerly a free car park, council papers showed how the introduction of charges there had proven to be particularly contentious. 

A number of local respondents – such as the nearby GP surgery, dental surgery, St Peter’s Church and Manor Barn – had raised concerns about the impact of the charges on their employees and visitors.

Exacerbating issues, they said, is the fact that the only way to pay for parking there currently is to use RingGo – an online and telephone-based payment service. This has seen concerns raised for elderly and vulnerable service users, who may not have access to a mobile phone.

In light of these concerns, the task and finish group recommended that cash and card payment machines be installed at the car park as a priority. 

A decision on any further measures was deferred, however, due to concerns that the coronavirus pandemic will have affected how car parks are used.

Cllr John Barnes (Con), a member of the task and finish group, said: “The evidence for this year is of course, for obvious reasons, wholly distorted, which is a good reason I think for continuing our work, watching how the emergence from lockdown actually helps us to reach a more balanced conclusion. 

“I think the can we have deliberately kicked down the road was the extremely tricky one of Manor Gardens [in Bexhill]. It was not, I think, that anybody thinks we do not have a problem there. The difficulty is coming up with an equitable and workable solution.

“What we have done is to put that very much on to the agenda for the future.”

Following discussion, the wider committee resolved to hold a “thorough review” into the appropriate level of charges for car parking at a future date. 

The rest of the group’s recommendations will be put forward to the council’s cabinet at a later date.

In light of the impact of the pandemic, the task and finish group also intended to continue its work in the coming months to look at whether further changes are needed as the covid recovery gets underway.

East Sussex County Council will be conducting its own review of the parking charges later this year.