by Filtonvoice and BBC LDRS reporting team
A row has broken out over a threat to free parking in South Gloucestershire – which could affect three locations in Filton.
Opposition Conservatives have discovered that Labour – one-half of the new administration with the Lib Dems – discussed introducing charges at council-run car parks at a recent group meeting of its members.
In Filton, South Glos runs the car parks at Church Road; Filton Abbeywood Station; and Station Road.
But the coalition has fired back, saying the Tories disguised a line in the annual budget last February, when they still ran the local authority, that promised £5million of extra money for council coffers but kept it a secret that this would be from new parking fees.
The Lib Dems and Labour say they would have opposed it had they known and that they are now left to implement the charges that have been effectively introduced by the Conservatives, unless they can somehow find the money from other services.
Filtonvoice understands the coalition will seek to make the savings from other budgets if it possibly can although council leader Cllr Claire Young (Lib Dem, Frampton Cotterell) kicked off the next budget-setting cycle at last month’s cabinet by warning that the organisation needed to find £40million of cuts over the next four years to balance its books.
She said the new administration had concerns about the lack of detail in some of the proposed savings in the 2023/24 budget, agreed at full council in February with support from Labour while most Lib Dems abstained.
Cllr Young told the July meeting that the council had “already cut services to the bone, meaning there is little remaining wriggle room to work with”.
Now the coalition says it was only after the new leaders took office following May’s local elections that they were told by officers that a vague-looking “review of income generating opportunities” line in the budget that would reap £1million in 2024/25 and £2million over each of the next two years was a review of whether to introduce parking charges.
The Tories, however, insist retaining free parking was a key pledge not only in their manifesto but that of the other two parties and they fear Labour and the Lib Dems are now ditching their promise to voters.
Conservatives say alarm bells were raised by comments at a recent council meeting by cabinet member Cllr Leigh Ingham (Labour, Kingswood) who, when asked to publicly renew her group’s commitment to free parking, “refused to commit to the policy”.
They say that Cllr Ingham instead said “addressing the challenge of climate change” would shape the administration’s decision.
Tory group leader Cllr Sam Bromiley (Parkwall & Warmley) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It’s extremely troubling to learn that the coalition, and the Labour group in particular, may be thinking about introducing car parking charges in South Gloucestershire.
“This would completely contradict both parties’ manifesto pledges and would have severe consequences for our high streets and local businesses.
“While the council is not immune to the challenges that all local authorities across the country are facing, there is no financial need whatsoever to start charging people to park their cars in South Gloucestershire.
“If this decision is made, it will be a political decision in order to fulfil a political objective.
“South Gloucestershire is one of the few places in the country where you can park your car for free at all times, and I’m proud that this has been one of the Conservative group’s long-standing achievements.
“If it’s scrapped by the coalition, residents and local businesses will have every right to feel cheated and let down.”
In response, Labour and the Lib Dems said: “The Conservatives are not telling the whole truth.
“When they were in power, before we took office, they put a ‘review of income generating opportunities’ into their budget.
“There was no mention of parking charges in this budget line.
“It is only after the Conservatives lost power and we took office in partnership that we were told by council officers that this ‘review’ the Conservatives put in the budget was whether to introduce parking charges.
“The Conservatives withheld this information at the time we voted on the budget.
“If we’d known, we would’ve strongly opposed it.
“The Conservatives have effectively introduced parking charges in South Gloucestershire, leaving the current administration to implement it.
“It had never been our idea or intention. It’s theirs.
“Therefore, it’s a bit surprising that Sam Bromiley is raising this, given that he was a member of the Conservative cabinet at the time they formed the budget.
“He will have been fully aware that this ‘review’ was about introducing parking charges.”
Labour and the Lib Dems said they both made an “express manifesto promise” to keep parking free.
The two parties said: “But we need to be clear with the public – these millions of pounds of income have already been written into the budget by the previous administration and, if they are not found through introducing parking charges, they will need to be found somewhere else.”
Labour confirmed that the issue was discussed at a recent group meeting because “members needed to be made aware of what we had uncovered in the budget”.
The coalition added: “They needed to know that the budget deficit is potentially larger than originally thought.
“We are working extremely hard with officers to find other methods of income generation that do not involve any parking charges whatsoever.
“If we can find this income without introducing parking charges, we absolutely will.
“However, all options must remain open.
“But let it be known this was a Conservative idea.”