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Gloucestershire Business News

Freedom of the Forest – for an hour

Reverse gear looks set to be engaged over a plan to triple parking fees for shoppers and tourists in the Forest of Dean.

With a current annual loss of £15,000 on the books of Forest of Dean District Council from its administration of eight car parks owned by the county council, FoDDC had been looking at tripling meter charges - and eyeing a subsequent £200,000 boon from making the change.

But against the headwind of a public consultation, a Plan B for a potential break-even running of car parks now looks likely.

Under the initial scheme, the Green Party, which leads Forest of Dean District Council, would have imposed a 300% increase on car parking within its budget for the coming financial year. Crucially, a minimum stay for up to two-hours' parking was scheduled to rise from 50p to £2.

The changes were set to affect all car parks, including those in Cinderford, Coleford and Lydney.

But in the wake of the latest public consultation, a replacement plan will now see a free first hour of parking across all car parks. Allied to this, a new £1.50 charge, which amounts to a trebling of the existing 50p per hour charge for two hours' use of the car park, will come in. For three hours' parking, the ticket will rise from £1 to £2.

Parking for longer periods is also set to rise - from £1.50 for four hours to £2.50 and from £2 for an entire day to £3.

Speaking about the changes, FoDDC leader Mark Topping said: "We really have taken on board what people have said and responded accordingly. There is an increase in charges as part of the proposals, but we are removing the charge for the first hour."

Cllr Topping added: "It's being done because this is a council service. If we were a private car park we would be trying to squeeze every last penny we could out of people."

Amid growing pressure for local authorities to balance their books, FoDDC receives just 9% of the council tax bill residents pay. Despite this, the council's remit includes waste collection, planning, licensing, housing, leisure servies and car parking.

Parking permits look also set to rise, with a weekly pass climbing from £6 to £7, monthly from £20 to £22, three-monthly from £55 to £57 and six-monthly from £95 to £99.

Overall, the changes are set to be welcomed. In its reaction during the consultation, Coleford Town Council said it had listed many reasons to oppose the initial tripling of charges.

It told FoDDC: "This will prevent many people from popping into their local town, or visitors stopping to see what it is like before purchasing long-term parking. It makes a bottle of milk very expensive, if that is all you are visiting for."

People had no choice to use cars, the council added, given poor public transport options.

A spokesperson for the town council told the town's councillors welcomed the proposed initial free hour of parking.

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