Council denies making profit on parking in Wymondham

The leader of South Norfolk Council denied that it was were profiteering from parking charges after it emerged that the authority made more than �190,000 profit from fees and fines last year.

The district council received �236,734 in pay and display charges in the 2010/11 financial year and spent �46,311 on maintenance and car park improvements, according to figures obtained by the Mercury under a Freedom of Information request.

The news has prompted business groups in Wymondham and Diss to call for a review of the authority's charges system, which currently allows one free hour of parking before 50p an hour fees kick-in.

But leader John Fuller said rates had not changed since a new charging system was introduced in 2009.

'When we came into power there was a �2m maintenance backlog. This was addressed. We now have lower maintenance costs but the surplus helps payback the upgrade costs.'

'There is no profiteering. The maintenance plus staffing and repayments are covered by the charges. It's break-even really,' he said.

The most profitable off-street car park in the South Norfolk area was Weavers Court in Diss, which received �30,031 in 2010/11, and the car park that generated the least amount in charges and fines was The Staithe in Loddon with just over �1,000.

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Officials at the district council said that �59,000 of the �190,000 profit had been spent in business rates with the rest going into car park vehicles, machine maintenance, cash collection, security and staff costs.

Robert Smith, a member of the Wymondham retailer trade group and owner of the Book Fountain shop, added that the biggest rate payers needed more council support.

'I understand that they have to make money from the car parks, but an hour's free parking is not enough time to do what they want to do. If it was a smaller amount from the word go or free for the first two hours, more people would come in to do their banking, get their hair done and have a coffee.'

'Rates have gone up, rents have gone up, overheads have gone up and footfall in the town has gone down and nothing is being done to encourage people into the town,' he said.

In 2009/10 South Norfolk Council received �240,000 in charges and fines and spent �99,000 on car park maintenance and resurfacing.

Jenna Cox, spokesman for the Diss Business Forum, which has surveyed members and traders about car parking costs, said many respondents wanted to see the town council running local car parks.

'South Norfolk Council will not give up the car parks because it is a money-spinner, but it stops people from coming in and enjoying the town. With one free hour they rush in and rush out and that does not help anyone,' she said.

Local businesses and the town council in Harleston pay to keep car parking free.