Hopes of shift on new car park charges

BRISTOL’S Mayor Marvin Rees has promised to look again at plans to introduce charges at the council-run Westbury Hill car park at Westbury on Trym.

Plans to charge GP patients, churchgoers and shoppers £1 an hour, seven days a week, have caused an outcry.

Opposition councillors tried to reverse the plans, which also affect nine other car parks and are due to come into force in the autumn. Their bid at full council last month was unsuccessful but Mr Rees did say his administration would take another look, particularly with regard to patients using the surgery that adjoins the car park.

Conservative group leader Cllr Mark Weston tabled a motion urging Mr Rees to “revisit, review and reverse” the idea. He called on the mayor to “commit to conducting full consultation” and “explore possible compromise solutions”, such as making the first hour free but increasing how much drivers would pay after that so the council still earned the same income.

It also demanded pausing the sell-off of four other district car parks to “evaluate their impact on local high streets and then consult on those plans as well”.

The motion was supported by the Lib Dems but failed because Greens and Labour, the two biggest parties in the chamber, voted against.

Cllr Sharon Scott (Conservative, Westbury-on-Trym & Henleaze) told the meeting: “Westbury has a thriving high street with the only banks in north Bristol. Parking charges will no doubt influence people to park on the street, impacting local residents. The large primary care centre, Holy Trinity Church and Methodist church are all either on the car park itself or minutes away.”

She said the Methodist church doubled as a community hub used by more than 2,000 people a week, including Scouts, Guides, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bristol Ballet Centre, a drama group, a foodbank and a Ukrainian centre.

Cllr Scott said: “What message is the council giving to volunteers who give up their own time to help, then to be charged for the privilege? Is the council really going to charge people to worship or see a doctor?

“This car park is used by many, it’s a vital part of Bristol life and it’s not just for the residents of BS9 who apparently can afford to pay extra charges, which some ill-informed councillors in this chamber seem to believe.

“This scheme should not be used as a tax on daily life. We need a consultation and a proper debate on the first hour being free, no annual permits and free parking on Sundays.

“Simply bringing in charges without consultation will harm our communities and local economy.”

Labour group leader Cllr Steve Pearce said: “These car parks aren’t free to maintain – by keeping them free you’re subsidising motorists inherently at the expense of other forms of transport.”

Cllr Ed Plowden (Green, Windmill Hill) tabled an amendment “opposing the principle of free parking” but this was also voted down.

Earlier, at member forum, Cllr John Goulandris (Conservative, Stoke Bishop), asked the mayor: “Is it possible for the council to give the GP surgery a very small number of passes that they could give to patients so they don’t end up having to pay?”

Mr Rees replied: “We want to explore the potential of that.“There is a cost to it and I want to talk to our health partners about that cost. We’re in a dilemma, they’re in a dilemma and I hope we can sit around the table and resolve it.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service