WILTSHIRE Council has been heavily criticised after making nearly three quarters of a million pounds in overpayments in the last three years from car parking machines that do not give change.
This has led to calls for car parking charges in Melksham to be scrapped to support local businesses.
A recent Freedom Of Information request revealed that Wiltshire Council has made £730,000 in three years from overpayments from car parking machines that don’t give change – more money than any other council in the country that responded to the request.
The latest figures reveal that the council made £250,000 in 2012/13 alone, making them the biggest beneficiaries from short changing than any of the 79 councils to respond. Tunbridge Wells come second as they raked in £94,000 for the same period.
The latest figures follows the news last September in the Melksham News that revealed Wiltshire Council made £7.6million from car parking charges in 2012/13, placing them as the 11th most profitable local authority from parking excluding the London Boroughs. This places rural Wiltshire above large city councils including Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol and Sheffield.
The parking charges was cited by some as the reason for some independent businesses struggling in Melksham. Lovejoys the fruit and vegetable shop shut its doors last year and blamed the parking charges as part of the reason.
Melksham Town councillor Pat Aves feels the short-change problem could be solved with one-hour free parking in the town. She said, “There is nothing I would like to see more than the replacement of the first hour free in Melksham’s car parks.
“Whilst I am all for a bit of integrity here on the part of the council, replacing the machines is a short term solution. If machines are to be replaced, digital card reading equipment would make more sense, which would require a considerable investment. Perhaps that is what the council is saving up for…!
“We can only hope that the profits currently being made are used to the benefit of motorists in Wiltshire to combat the current problems regarding resurfacing the many potholed roads. In the meantime, keep a supply of small change ready for car parking so that you are not caught out.”
Melksham Without Parish councillor Paul Carter also agrees that free parking is the best solution to the problem. He said, “I understand it would cost a fortune for the machines to be converted to give change. However, my view has always been for two hours’ free parking to encourage shoppers to stay in the town. As Wiltshire Council is dead set against this, I propose that a portion of the £250,000 that equates to Melksham car parks be refunded to the town and/or parish councils for town enhancements. I will be writing to my chairman on the parish council to ask for his and the council’s support for my proposal.”
Melksham’s deputy mayor cllr Ben Anderson said, “There isn’t a perfect solution for collecting parking charges and a machine that provides change is more expensive to run, which is an extra cost on parking charges.
“The real story in all this is the current review of Wiltshire Council’s car parking strategy and the opportunity for town councils to manage town car parks, including setting parking charges. In last year’s election promises, the Lib Dems pledged to introduce free parking. They now run the town council and the power to bring car parks under town control, and introduce free parking, is in their hands.”
A Wiltshire Council spokesperson said, “In Wiltshire we give people the option of a variety of methods to pay for tickets to use our car parks. If people don’t have the correct change they can pay by debit or credit card via their mobile phone at every car park we run, and to save money monthly or annual season tickets are available.
“All of the funds received from over vend are used to fund transport initiatives including support to rural bus services for those without access to cars, which require subsidy to make these services viable.”
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