Car parking charges could resume in Wirral early next year, as the council counts the cost of abandoning the fees since April.
Last night’s meeting of Wirral Council’s environment and transport committee voted to resume parking charges by seven votes to four.
Five Labour members, one Lib Dem and one Green councillor voted in favour, while four Conservative councillors voted against.
This verdict will go to the authority’s most powerful committee on December 16, meaning charges could return as early as January if the recommendations are approved.
Wirral Council estimates that it is losing £200,000 per month by making parking free, based on car park usage before the pandemic.
It is likely that parking demand will have been much lower this year compared to previous years, but the authority reported that demand has risen as restrictions have been eased.
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How could charges be brought back?
Two options for resuming charges were voted through for debate at a further committee meeting.
These were Option Four, which would bring back charges at all locations, including on-street parking, long-stay parking, country parks and those most commonly used by shoppers.
Some members asked that country parks remained free of charge until after coronavirus restrictions have ended to avoid limiting access to them for low-paid people.
The other option put forward was Option Six, which would reintroduce charges for long-stay sites, on-street parking and country parks, but not so-called ‘shoppers’ car parks.
In a fractious debate, Conservative councillor Alison Wright said she would not agree to reinstating car parking charges in the borough because of the impact it could have on businesses.
Labour’s Liz Grey, who chairs the committee, called her decision “strange” as Cllr Wright, along with fellow Tory councillor Tony Cox, was part of the working group which recommended the two options.
The Labour councillor said Cllr Cox voted for Option Six.
Explaining this, Cllr Wright said she made it clear that she would not be making any decisions until the full committee met last night.
Cllr Cox queried whether the chair knew how working groups functioned, stating that working groups make recommendations and the committee can do something different if it wishes.
But Labour’s Steve Foulkes, a former leader of the council, was not having that excuse. He thought the two Conservatives had been whipped to oppose parking charges for party political reasons.
He noted Wirral’s budget deficit and the fact that parking charges have been reintroduced throughout the rest of Merseyside.
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Cllr Grey said a decision to forgo income could lead to job losses or service cuts as the council needs to save money.
The authority is urgently seeking a capitalisation loan from the government to address its deficit, much of which has been caused by the pandemic, and protect the services it delivers to the people of the borough.
Cllr Grey suggested this would be more difficult to get if the council refuses to make money from parking charges which people were happy to pay beforehand.