By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins
CONSULTATION groups are being set up across the county to tackle the next phase of Dorset Council’s parking charges review.
The council says it wants to align charges and parking permits across the whole area, possibly in three bands. New parking permits are being considered for workers and shoppers which could be used across the county in specified car parks.
Nine working groups are being set up to include Beaminster, Bridport, West Bay and West Bexington; Blandford, Gillingham and Shaftesbury; Charmouth and Lyme Regis; Corfe Mullen and Wimborne; Corfe Castle and Wareham; Dorchester; Ferndown, Verwood and West Moors; Portland and Weymouth and Sherborne and Sturminster Newton.
Swanage is not included in the review as its car parks are owned and managed by the town council.
As part of the new policy Dorset Council is proposing giving a total of six free parking days in its car parks, four of them at the request of town and parish councils, although these will not be able to be used in December.
One of the six free days will be Small Business Saturday in December.
“No other days in December will be considered unless the town council, local BID or other organisation(s) are willing to meet the cost of the lost income at an amount to be calculated by the council’s parking team based on average weekend costs for that time of year,” said a Dorset Council statement.
In previous years the council has offered free parking on every Saturday of December in the run-up to Christmas.
Dorset Council is reported to have forgone around £3million in car park fees this year, about half of what it normally collects, as a result of COVID restrictions and its decision to allow free parking at the start of the pandemic.
The council ran into a storm of criticism last year when it announced changes to car parking fees to come into effect this winter which include an end to free parking after 6pm and on Sundays, and to quadruple fees in some seaside car parks at West Bay and Lyme Regis.
Many complained that the decision was taken without any consultation which led to a partial back down and has prompted the current exercise to take local views onboard before coming to any firm decisions for the next phase of parking charge changes.