Is Royal Borough planning to privatise parking?

James Harrison

Fears of spiralling parking costs that could drive shoppers away have been voiced after it emerged the Royal Borough is investigating having private contractors run its car parks.

Details are yet to emerge but it has been confirmed ‘options’ for the future of parking in the borough – including privatisation – are being looked at. Proposals are expected to be presented ‘by the end of the year’.

On Monday, the Transport and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Panel is to review a raft of cuts as the council looks to make £5.6m of savings in 2017/18.

They include the potential for £100,000 savings through a ‘Contractual Joint Venture with commercial providers’ for parking provision.

When quizzed on exactly what this meant, a spokesman responded: “An option we are looking at would be to work with a commercial partner to provide parking provision in the borough with the aim of reducing costs and potentially enhancing services. We are in the very early stages of considering this option in order to determine whether this would be viable.”

The apparent attempt to offload responsibility for parking comes roughly a year after the Advertiser exposed glaring problems with the Nicholsons Centre Car Park payment system.

A new system was later installed at a cost of £240,000 which also quickly ran into problems.

These now seem to have been resolved, although in the past months the car park has been forced to close several times due to electrical problems which had again forced it to close yesterday (Wednesday).

And last month Bill Higgins, chairman of the firm behind the Landing project in Maidenhead town centre, claimed parking issues had the potential to ‘deter investors’ in the town centre regeneration.

Cllr Carwyn Cox, cabinet member for environmental services and parking, denied the council was trying to off-load responsibility, saying: “We always try and do the best we can.

“Sometimes we don’t hit our own high standards, but we always look at the best options for residents. There’s no hint of secrecy about this.

“No formal decisions have been made at this stage.”

But the news has sparked fears a private operator would want to increase parking charges to drive up profits rather than set prices to draw shoppers into town.

Bob Dulson, chairman of Maidenhead Civic Society, said: “Easy access and reasonable parking are distinct advantages Maidenhead has over its competitors.

“We have at least to maintain those for the future but also, crucially, in the medium term during the disturbance that regeneration will inevitably bring.

“So a comprehensive access, movement and parking strategy is an urgent requirement and it’s right that the borough explores all the options.

“But it is to be hoped what emerges accords with  the community’s desire for an attractive and enhancing solution, not just a financial imperative.”

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