AN ‘EXTORTIONATE’ rise in Horsham town centre car parking fees has driven residents, commuters and business owners mad.
New charges with an increase of up to 50 per cent will come into force from February 1 and 9, frustrating many budgets post Christmas.
The increase has fuelled a petition calling for Horsham District Council (HDC) to reverse the charges, branding them ‘highway robbery’.
This week, traders, residents and commuters have all voiced their outrage at the price hike, which has been defended by the cabinet member responsible who labelled Horsham ‘recession proof’.
Some of the car parks hardest hit are Swan Walk, Piries Place, Denne Road and Park House (council offices) where the cost of three hours parking will increase by 25 per cent – more than five times the rate of UK inflation.
However, at Hurst Road car park prices are set to rocket by 50 per cent, prompting Pavillions in the Park leisure centre member Susan Michaelis to collect signatures to fight the council with.
Initially she was shocked to learn from incorrect HDC information taped to the parking metre on Monday that fees would be rising by 100 per cent, from £1 to £2, with additional charges for two-hour stays.
But this was incorrect, and clarification has since been issued to the County Times on the correct planned increases. From February 9 users will pay £1.50 to park for three hours, instead of the current £1.
The misleading public notice from HDC angered Dr Michaelis who asked: “If they’re making mistakes on something like this, what are they like with the larger issues?”
Commenting on the corrected price hikes she added: “It’s just plain old wrong. The increase is well above inflation and that’s not acceptable.
“We have put a petition together based on what I was hearing from members to voice our concerns about the extortionate, highway robbery increases in the fees.
“We’re all trying to keep fit and healthy - one of the council’s main objectives - and people come down here regularly as part of that, and they’re going to up to the point where it will cost more than the membership itself in some cases.
“It’s a massive disincentive. They seem to be a law unto themselves.”
She added: “It’s an HDC apparent grab for money from whatever source they can find and we’re saying no.
“HDC have no idea what it’s doing and want to take as much money as possible from people’s pockets - we don’t trust them.”
Member and mother of two, Sharon Powell, said she may be forced to stop her daughter’s swimming lessons in the aftermath of rising tariffs. She worked out her parking costs at Hurst Road for a year will amount to £858, more than double her £340 membership.
Mrs Powell said: “I will consider stopping my daughter’s swimming lessons or trampolining sessions, which she loves.The alternative is a 40-minute walk with a five-year-old after 7pm.
“I feel really really sad for the kids. I thought car parking wasn’t a money-making business.”
Tim Bolton, contract manager for DC Leisure, told the County Times these charges may become a ‘barrier’ for Pavilions in the Park membership.
He said: “The car park is managed by the local authority so we have to support them and the good work they do.
“From my point of view it’s about getting as many people into the facility as possible. But if the car park charges become a barrier for entrance that could have an effect on membership.
“I believe the council have tried to match the fees with the other car parks across Horsham. But this car park feeds so many different uses such as the centre, the park, and the town.”
Traders also fear the move will drive away customers from the already struggling town centre.
Cut-throat competition on the high street has left a number workers facing an uncertain future as national chains bid to resolve business difficulties (see page 6).
Vince Cassar, owner of Town and Country Weigh in East Street, said eventually customers would ‘avoid’ Horsham altogether due to the parking rates.
He said: “It’s a bad thing for customers, they just won’t come. It will put people off coming to Horsham - simple as that.
“They put it up with all the rest of it and sooner or later people will avoid Horsham. I already have customers from Dorking, Leatherhead and all over the place who say it’s just getting too expensive.”
But his customers are not the only ones who have felt the pinch. Mr Cassar’s annual parking has increased to £844 from £800.
He added: “It’s all take, take, take - and what do we get for it? People come in and wonder why all the shops are closing down.
“If they can make one day at least half price
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or free parking, just one day a week, that will help businesses and that’s what it comes down to.”
These views are echoed by John Cox, owner of Telfers Jewellers in East Street, who thinks a restructuring in the type of shops may help bring Horsham back to life.
“Any increase in car parking is going to make people think and consider why they come into Horsham, and for how long?” he said. “They may stop popping in or they will abuse the on-street parking which then gets residents upset and further increases the area by which parking permits are put.
“I think it comes down to the town centre management and getting the style of shops right. At the moment West Street is becoming desolate with big units.
“Perhaps consideration should be given to make larger units into smaller ones to create a much more diverse range of shops, therefore attracting a wider demographic of shoppers.”
He added: “I’m sure there are considerable savings to be made elsewhere such as the number of staff employed at Horsham District Council offices.”
But Roger Paterson (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham), cabinet member for the Local Economy, defends the ‘small’ increase, claiming money will be put back into the car parks in a bid to create a ‘more enjoyable visitor experience’.
He told the County Times: “The direction of Horsham over the last two years has been to improve the visitor experience.
“We have spent a huge amount of money on East Street which has greatly improved the quality of the town.
“We’re about to spend a huge amount of money on West Street to bring that up to standard. And part of the process is to do that to the car parks.
“Technology has moved on since we installed the last pay-stations.
“We’re going to use a system where cars will be registered when they come in and payment methods will be easy and flexible. Very much like airport car parks.”
The cabinet member explains the new method will identify where shoppers have come, and the council have plans to use this information in a bid to give Horsham residents ‘special deals’ on parking in the future.
But Mr Paterson admits the new systems will ‘come at a cost’.
“I think that cost is modest for what it offers which is a huge improvement to the experience of car parking,” he said, “it’s a very small amount of money when you put it into context.
“Quite a lot of people these days go to Blue Water shopping centre and that’s a long long drive with money on spent on milage.”
He added: “We have about four times the average fidelity of shopper, people who come to Horsham come back four times more than the average town.
“We know that statistically Horsham is recession proof, and we need to build on that.”
The district cabinet member confirmed no plans are in place to increase parking charges in Horsham’s surrounding villages such as Storrington and Pulborough.
Others have been more supportive of the new pricing structure. Chris Holt, of La Source in East Street, believes Horsham will still represent ‘good value for money’ after the rise in fees.
“If it was up to me, every car park would be free,” explained Mr Holt, “but I do hand-on-heart feel that Horsham still represents good value for money. Go down to Worthing or Brighton and see the prices there.”
PJ Aldred, representing 70 traders as director of Horsham Markets, also backs the hike, claiming parking charges ‘will still be less than many other towns in Sussex’.
And Gill Buchanan, chairman of Horsham Unlimited, said: “Horsham District Council consulted Horsham Unlimited regarding their car park management plans back in 2011 and we believe that the changes to charges will maintain Horsham’s competitive edge with surrounding major retail destinations.
“Horsham Unlimited has for some time been lobbying for environmental improvements to the town centre multi-story car parks in particular which will now be funded through the revenue increases.
“We made our position quite clear at the start of our discussions that we felt these improvements, or certainly some of them, should be in place prior to any change in charging so that customers would see the immediate benefit in environment, signage, customer service etc. The investment in updated payment machines will make one of the biggest differences for customers.
“It is unfortunate that this has not been put in place and we were not informed in advance of the timetable for increasing the charges.
“We will continue to work with the Council to ensure that the promised improvements are delivered in a timely manner and that Horsham maintains its competitive edge.”
£1.00 - £1.50 = 50%
Swan Walk 3 Hours
£2.40 - £3.00 = 25%
Piries Place 3 Hours
£2.40 – £3.00 = 25%
Denne Road 3 Hours
£2.40 - £3.00 = 25%
£2.40 - £3.00 = 25%
New Street 3 Hours
£1.40 - £1.50 = 7.1%
The Forum 3 Hours
£2.10 - £2.20 = 4.8%
North Parade 3 Hours
£2.40 - £2.50 = 4.2%
British Telecom 3 Hours
£2.40 - £2.50 = 4.2%