This year’s increases in car parking charges have been one of the most controversial decisions made by Cornwall Council in recent times with residents and businesses alike criticising the price hike, which has seen the cost of all-day parking double in some places.

Tariffs could increase again at over 130 council-run car parks next year if draft budget proposals are approved. 

The council’s Conservative cabinet will discuss the financial plan at a meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, September 13) before a final decision is made next February.

A huge £29m saving needs to be made by the council in the 2024/25 financial year, which is likely to see a 4.99 per cent council tax increase for the second year in a row – the maximum allowed before a referendum needs to be called. 

Although not highlighted in the financial report for cabinet members, a link to an online dashboard reveals that one of the council’s “key lines of enquiry” to bring in extra revenue is to increase car parking prices by five per cent next year; a financial “opportunity” of £795,000.

From May 31 this year, Cornwall Council ’s 135 pay-and-display and pay-on-foot car parks were grouped into of three ‘zones’, with Zone A being the most expensive, following changes agreed by the council’s cabinet. The changes proved so unpopular that the council reduced some prices following a public consultation but the new tariffs have still come under attack by those who fear they are targeting the worst off and “decimating” businesses.

In many of the Duchy’s busiest car parks it now costs £2.20 to park for an hour and up to £10 for over four hours. Free parking after 4pm has now been changed to a £2 fee after 6pm, which a number of town BID (business improvement districts) managers have said will affect the night-time economy of towns which are already struggling with a lack of footfall. Many places have seen free parking on Sundays scrapped too.

Towns like Callington are seeing failing businesses blaming the car park increases squarely on closures, and report that takings have decreased by over 30 per cent since the tariff hikes were introduced. Cabinet members argued that the rise was necessary to plug an annual parking income shortfall of £1.5m in Cornwall in previous years.

Opposition councillors have criticised the the mooted five per cent increase on the increase.

“The final decision on the council’s budget will be made in February, within which time there will be ample time for public scrutiny of the various proposals … a further increase of five per cent in car park charges will be a further blow to already hard-pressed businesses and must be stopped,” said Cllr Jim McKenna, Independent councillor for Penzance Promenade.

Cllr Tim Dwelly (Independent, Penzance East) said: “Absolutely unbelievable. Cornwall’s Conservatives are obviously determined to wreck our towns’ high streets with an extra five per cent rise in car park costs – just after they doubled the all-day charges. This is a business-bashing proposal that will devastate our town centres and add to everyone’s cost of living fears.”

The cabinet’s deputy leader said last week that the council needs to find “creative solutions” to its financial problems.

Cllr David Harris (Conservative, Gloweth, Malabar and Shortlanesend), who is also portfolio holder for resources, said: “Like other local authorities we continue to face enormous financial challenges and must work doubly hard to find creative solutions that allow us to meet them head-on. We have done this by finding new efficiency measures and ways to generate income that will help us return a balanced budget.

“These proposals focus on our priorities and reflect our commitment to deliver value for money for residents while protecting frontline services and supporting the most vulnerable among us. Following our review of these plans the details will be put before the council’s various scrutiny committees and I look forward to receiving their feedback.”