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Parking car park Gillingham

Dorset Council has attempted to play down the controversy over increased county-wide car parking charges it plans to introduce next year after news of the increases began to leak.

It announced its proposals for public comment last Tuesday.

Its plan, discussed behnd closed doors since March but hurriedly announced publicly on 22 June, reveals that the cost of parking in Shaftesbury is likely to rise from January 2022 to 50p from 40p for 30 minutes, from 70p to £1 for one hour, and to £6 for all day.

In Gillingham, charges will rise to 50p for 30 minutes, £1 for an hour and £4 to park all day.

It’s all part of what Dorset Council calls its ‘Parking Transformation Project’ that seeks to standardise car park prices across the council area following its 2019 reorganisation. It also proposes a new single car park permit for drivers living and working in Dorset it’s in the process of consulting on.

The plan will see the introduction of a new three-tier pricing structure for all of Dorset’s car parks that it claims will ‘differentiate between the diverse and unique areas that Dorset enjoys – rural, coastal and town – and the seasonal nature of car parks at popular visitor destinations.’

The aim, claims Dorset Council, is ‘to bring consistency to charging across Dorset Council car parks – where charges currently span from free to £9 all day.’

The proposed levels are:

– Level one, for ‘smaller more rural car parks’ and includes Gillingham and Sturminster Newton.

– Level two, for ‘market towns and shopping destination car parks’ and includes Shaftesbury and Blandford.

– Level three, for ‘visitor destination car parks’ and includes all Dorset’s coastal resort towns. It’s proposed to be the same as level two car parks in the low season but rise in the high season (1 April to 31 October) from £1 for 30 minutes to £10 for all day.

Dorset Council’s announcement initially caused extra alarm because it appeared to suggest the introduction of on-street charges to park in towns such as Gillingham and Shaftesbury – where parking is currently free – to force drivers to park in the car parks.

But Dorset Council has now said it had no plans to charge for on-street parking in either Gillingham or Shaftesbury nor to introduce residents’ on-street parking permit schemes.

A spokesman said: ‘The way the introduction of [on-street parking permit] schemes work is that usually residents request their streets/parking to be permitted and then we investigate/assess and then consult on any proposals.’

Dorset Council is inviting comments on its proposals to be made to [email protected] by 16 July.

The deadline for the parking permit survey (at www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/parking-permit-survey) is 11 July.

The project team hopes to present the final proposals to Dorset Council’s place and resources overview committee in October and to its cabinet in November, with a view to introducing the new parking charges in January 2022.

• Dorset Council said it made nearly £10 million from its car parks in 2019-20 and after deducting costs of almost £4 million for maintenance, machinery, technology and staffing it had a surplus of almost £6 million that it claimed it spent on the county’s highways including road repairs.

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