Labour councillors were incensed at this weeks Meeting of Sedgemoor District Council as the controlling Tory group pushed through car park increases, but just for 2 Bridgwater car parks while the rest of the District charges were frozen. Proposals to raise fees by 25% in Dampiet street and Market street were voted through despite attempts by Bridgwater Labour members and some renegade Tories.
Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour,Victoria) said “Bridgwater has been hit by roadworks, congestion, and 14% less footfall in our town centre as a result – so why this selective policy? This targeted increase is unfair and the burden should be spread across the district. These car parks are short stay and particularly useful for people with less mobility.”
Tory Leader Cllr Duncan McGinty (Con,East Polden) was unmoved and said “Of course I have sympathy because no one likes increases in car park charges but we have a policy of the user pays. These are very well liked car parks and earning more money but every cut we make only adds to our budget gap. Are we treating Bridgwater unfairly? No, we are only bringing it in line with other car parks”
Cllr Leigh Redman (Labour, Dunwear) leapt to his feet to challenge the leaders assertion. “I have just checked your figures on line and it is clearly not IN line – you are creating an ‘exception’ in Bridgwater”
Tory unease fails to transfer to votes
Some Tories were clearly uneasy with the evidence before them. Cllr Anne Fraser (Con, Petherton) said “Cllr Lerry is right. Bridgwater HAS suffered congestion and roadworks and these 2 car parks ARE very accessible for shoppers and we should be encouraging that.”
Cllr Lerry moved an amendment seconded by Cllr Smedley for ‘no increase in car parking charges’ but when put to the vote it was defeated with only Tory councillors Ann Fraser, Rachel Lilley, Liz Perry and Alan Bradford defying their party. Even Bridgwater Tories Gill Slocombe and Lance Duddridge voted to increase the fees just to their own town.
Town Council Anger
Bridgwater Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour,Westover) said “We had argued that the town needs mitigation in the light of the impact of all the roadworks but we didn’t expect the Tories to take that as mitigating AGAINST us. We had submitted a scheme for the first 2 hours to be free and longer periods held at the current rates without increase. The Tory response is incredible. They have singled us out and in fact raised prices just on our car parks. This is particularly disappointing because we have tried to work with Sedgemoor where we can but this decision will just prove right those that say Sedgemoor has no interest in Bridgwater and only cares about the rural wards, about Burnham and about Cheddar. And it’s no point the Tory leader saying Bridgwater Town Council should subsidise it’s own car parks – Sedgemoor sets the car park fees for the whole District and they should set them FAIRLY across the District.”