Some parking charges in Epsom could rise by as much as 25 per cent next year, with the flat rate Sunday charge for over two hours doubling to £2 under new proposals.

The changes are proposed in an extensive report which aims to maintain Epsom Council's parking income while introducing a raft of new parking measures aimed at improving Epsom’s economic vitality.

Many of them were suggested by the business community and supported by the borough’s new business development manager (BDM) Adam Worley.

These include the introduction of barriers, a discount card for regular shoppers, free parking Sundays in the run-up to Christmas and several reductions in parking charges.

But overall parking charges would go up by 2.5 per cent next year netting the council an extra £63,750.

The charge for parking for up to an hour at Depot Road, Upper High Street and Hook Road car parks would jump from 80p to £1.  The flat rate Sunday charge for over two hours would double and the evening charge would increase from £1.20 to £1.50.

Epsom Council currently makes £1.25m profit a year from off-street car parking charges, some of which is invested into car parks with the rest being used to support other services including the Epsom Playhouse, Route Call for elderly residents, plus leisure and social activities.

The report argued that reducing parking costs "in its simplest form would not have the desired impact" of increasing the number of shoppers because at peak times the car parks are already full at current prices.

But it proposed that more could be done to encourage people to visit car parks during ‘off-peak’ periods.

The report was debated at a lively meeting of the council's environment committee last Wednesday, October 16, when councillors agreed that the proposals will now be subject to "further evaluation and consultation with stakeholders".

Leader of the opposition Dem group, Councillor Julie Morris, said: "Having spoken to Adam Worley, there’s quite a lobby for cheaper parking, but the reality is it’s one of the few ways that this authority has of raising money.  Some of the cuts it would have to make would be awful.

"So we [the Liberal Democrat group] do agree with the 20p rise because £1 is a nice, easy sum and it’s still providing particularly good value and it allows us the option to do some things that perhaps we could not do. 

"There shouldn't be any increase under any circumstances of the Sunday charge."

Proposals to improve "customer experience"

The council proposes to offer free Christmas parking in all Epsom car parks on Sunday, December, 1, 8, 15 and 22.

It wants to introduce an "Epsom card", offering discounts to regular shoppers at barrier-controlled car parks, in return for them paying an annual fee, and reduced charges for shoppers who use selected retailers, with the shops reimbursing the council for the lost income.

The maximum charge at The Ashley Centre would be reduced from £17.50 to £12.50 for six hours.

The town hall and hope lodge car parks would be converted from pay-and-display to barrier controlled, at a cost of £110,000, so customers would no longer be left without change and would not have to estimate the length of stay in advance and end up paying more than they need to.

There would also be the introduction of "linear" charges in pay-and-display car parks which don't get barriers. This means that "time would be purchased at a rate of say 2 minutes for 1p with a minimum stay of say 30 minutes" rather than drivers having to buy tickets based on tarrif bands.  This would help resolve the problem of pay-and-display machines which do not give change. The machines can also be programmed to provide additional time in the event of over-payment. 

Epsom Council is proposing to install wider parking spaces were practical, and to "simplify the interaction of day and night charges".

Coun Morris argued that the "Epsom card" should be a "borough card and not just an Epsom card".

She said: "What we want to do is pull people in, not just focus on local residents.  They are important but to increase trade and promote economic vitality we need to bring people in from all over.  A lot of people come from Leatherhead so people should have a card even if they don’t live in Epsom."

Councillor Neil Dallen agreed, and said it should be introduced before the proposed launch date of September next year.

He said that, when considering reducing The Ashley Centre’s maximum charge, it had to be considered that "we don’t want people to use it all day."

Coun Dallen said people should be "encouraged to come into the car parks at 3.30pm and stay for the evening", but "we need to coordinate this with the shopkeepers because we will need the shops to stay open in the evening if this is going to happen."

Adjustments to car parking charges

Epsom Council has proposed to increase the charge for parking for up to an hour at Depot Road, Upper High Street and Hook Road car parks - from 80p to £1. 

It wants to increase the flat-rate Sunday charge for stays of more than two hours from £1 to £2,

It has proposed to offer an hour’s free parking in Hook Road, with councillors also asking for it to be open 24-hours a day.

Changes to car parking infrastructure

The report into the proposals said each of the town centre’s main car parks has a "distinctive role within the ‘parking hierarchy’" and their level of use "is often remarkably consistent from year to year".

It stated: "The Ashley Centre and town hall car parks are the main shoppers’ car parks.  Depot Road, Upper High Street and Hook Road provide parking for longer-stay users as well as catering for specific local needs." 

Councillors agreed, in principle, to reduce the number of blue badge spaces in the town hall car park - of which there are currently 18.

The council wants to "resurface and reline" the town hall car park for £40,000, and remove the pay-and-display bays in the Hook Road car park.

Councillors agreed that 150m of parapet fencing at "high-risk locations" at the top of the Ashley Centre car park, should be installed, after a number of suicide attempts from this location, but that the £25,000 cost of this should be funded jointly with Surrey Police.

The report said that the council’s budget strategy for 2014-15 assumes a 2.5 per cent increase in income from pay as you go parking charges - an extra £63,750.

Councillor Jean Smith, the committee’s chairwoman, said "confusion" in press, leading to people believing that Epsom Council is acting "illegally" in making a profit from car parking charges, had to be put right.

She said: "The council is allowed by law to make a surplus from off-street parking charges.  This surplus is used to help finance council services."

Coun Smith disagreed with Coun Morris who added: "People think it’s a way of the council making a profit and ripping them off.  It’s not because of illegality."  

Coun Morris added: "We are not expensive in this borough and we provide a good shopping facility at reasonable rates.  Most populated car parks are priced to ensure our town thrives by moving people who want to economise to the slightly further away car parks which all helps those streets which are not near The Ashley Centre.

"I love my town and if you don’t like Epsom go and live somewhere else and stop running the town down."