Car parking rate

Canterbury parking rates will not be lowered for residents over fears the cut will run counter to the climate emergency

Council bosses say residents won’t get a break from Kent’s most expensive parking fee – as it would lead to more congestion and deteriorate air quality.

The rates set by Canterbury City Council are the most expensive in the county, with motorists having to pay up to £3.50 an hour to park.

Hourly rates in Watling Street are £3.50

Fees are the authority’s biggest source of revenue – but calls to offer discounts to district residents have long been made.

Opposition councilors and critics of the high charges argue that a reduced rate would help boost footfall and trade.

They have previously called on council leaders to “screw money at tourists” rather than those who live in the area.

But speaking at a cabinet meeting, Cllr Joe Howes of the ruling Conservative Party said offering a cut would be the wrong move.

“If we lower the prices, you’re definitely going to encourage more people to drive into town, because that’s a bonus and a benefit,” he said.

Councilor Joe Howes
Councilor Joe Howes

“It will be cheap, so people will come. Therefore, the air quality will deteriorate, the congestion will get worse and we will create a bit of a mess.

“It’s not just the math we need to think about. We’ve declared a climate emergency, so we have a policy where we try to encourage greater use of alternative modes of transport.

“We want to encourage people to have hybrid or, more importantly, electric vehicles.

“I wouldn’t support this because of the detrimental impact it would have on our environment.

“The only way I would support something like this would be as a carrot to encourage people to use electric vehicles.”

“I wouldn’t support this because of the detrimental impact it would have on our environment…”

Other councilors echoed the ‘mixed-messaging’ reasoning, stressing how encouraging more travel would run counter to the climate emergency – which aims to see the council go carbon-free by 2030.

However, Cllr Mike Sole (Lib Dem) – who put forward the motion for cheaper parking – said a reduction for residents would increase footfall in the city and coastal towns and help improve rental returns.

Its proposed reduced rate would grant residents a reduction of up to four hours in any of the authority’s car parks which have been installed with license plate recognition cameras.

“Quite simply, it gives something back to residents who every year get very upset when parking fees go up,” he said.

“Reducing costs for them would support local retail and hospitality, encourage residents to stay longer and help those who are experiencing financial difficulties.

“The administrative side is very simple, we already know what cars are in the area, the discounts would only apply to ANPR car parks and no additional new registration or complex administrator would be needed.

Parking will not be cheaper for city dwellers
Parking will not be cheaper for city dwellers

“The simple rule is ‘you live in the area, register your car with ANPR and you get your discount’. That’s good news.”

A report by the council’s transport manager, Richard Moore, predicts that a 20% reduction for residents would result in an annual loss of around £450,000 in revenue.

Council bosses haven’t completely downplayed the prospect of reduced fares, saying they will ‘continue to explore’ ways in which ANPR could be used to further introduce differential parking.

The potential for cheaper resident fares will therefore remain on the radar for the future.

Chief Ben Fitter-Harding said: “When we first introduced ANPR, a resident discount was a long-standing ambition.

“However, what we have learned since then is that there are much more purposeful and targeted ways to use technology to deliver tangible benefits to residents.”

Cllr Fitter-Harding pointed to the authority’s free parking arrangement in Whitstable between 8.30am and 10am, and a £10 price cap at some car parks in the town.

He also pointed out that with the council’s different price bands, residents can park a little further away from the main car parks to get lower rates.

“There’s a much bigger discount if you park at Castle Street than if you drive down Watling Street,” he said.

“That differential is 50%, so that’s a big discount that you can get by making a choice.”

John Smith

The author John Smith