The commuter town near Bristol that has been ‘left behind’

Council plans to end its free parking in Midsomer Norton to save money
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A Somerset councillor has hit out at his town being “left behind” while millions are spent elsewhere, as the council plans to end its free parking to save money.

Independent councillor Shaun Hughes urged Bath and North East Somerset Council to drop its plans to start charging for the currently free South Road Car Park in Midsomer Norton, at a meeting of the council’s corporate scrutiny panel.

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Council plans would see car parking charges based on emissions rolled out in the car park, with people charged the same amount as car parks in Keynsham.

But Mr Hughes, who represents Midsomer Norton North on the council, said: “Tens of millions of pounds have been spent on Bath and Keynsham to improve the footfall [and] the shopping experience - and Midsomer Norton has been completely left behind in this. You cannot compare Bath, Keynsham, and Midsomer Norton.”

Emissions based charges - where more polluting vehicles are charged extra to park - were first introduced in Bath car parks in September, as part of a plan to tackle the city’s air quality problem.

Now, as part of a plan to balance the council’s £25m budget gap, the council is now proposing to extend them to on-street parking in Bath, as well as car parks in Keynsham, Saltford and the currently free car parks in Midsomer Norton and Radstock.

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But Mr Hughes warned: “In our area, cars are not a luxury, they are a necessity. Our residents need them to access the high street for things like banks, pharmacies, libraries, council services, refreshment services, and of course support the shops.”

He said: “Those that can afford the latest electric cars or the most fuel efficient cars will pay the least. Our poorest residents who need a car, whether they like it or not, will be the ones that get punished by this method of calculation.”

Plans to do away with the car park have been raised before, with a plan in 2022 scrapped after a public outcry. Mr Hughes said: “Every time, its established that this car park is key to a very fragile economy and a lot of businesses are likely to fail without this free car park.”

Together with inflationary price rises, the plan to expand emissions based pricing for parking across Bath and North East Somerset is expected to raise the council £195,000 for the next financial year.

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Speaking at a previous council scrutiny panel on January 11, council cabinet member for transport Manda Rigby said: “If you look at councils up and down the country, very very very few places that are now offering free parking. We are completely aware that we need to pitch the numbers that will not detract from the high street.”

She said a suggestion from Midsomer Norton North’s other councillor Michael Auton that parking could be kept free for two hours if charges were introduced was a “really sensible suggestion.” 

The plans to introduce car parking charges have also been slammed by local shopkeepers. Karen Starr, who runs Out of Asia on Midsomer Norton High Street, said she commutes into the town from Frome and would shut up shop if she had to pay parking charges every day, adding: “I’m not going to pay to park where I run a business.”

Other moves proposed in the budget include cutting £802k from community service contracts funding to local charities and a hike in council tax of the maximum 4.99% allowed (two percentage points of which will be ring fenced for spending on adult social care).

The budget will go before the council cabinet on February 8 and be voted on by a meeting of the full council on February 20.

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