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AN ANNOUNCEMENT by Dorset Council that car park charges are to be imposed from 8am to 8pm each day including Sundays has been greeted with disappointment and some anger.

Those hoping to see a post-Covid return of footfall and reduction in on-street parking in Blandford town centre have described the move as “hugely counterproductive”.

The changes include extending the chargeable period, currently 9am to 6pm, in all car parks from January next year together with the introduction of charges on Sundays in Blandford, Sturminster Newton and other towns where it has until now been free.

Free parking during the full Covid lockdown was widely welcomed in Blandford and resulted in fewer people seeking one of the limited number of free on-street parking spaces when they came into town.

And there had been hopes that the chargeable period might be reduced to encourage residents unable to find parking near their homes when they returned from work to use the car parks more overnight.

The council says that the changes are being brought as part of an ongoing review to make charging more consistent across the Dorset Council area following the creation of the new council,  and most rates remain unchanged, with the exception of some popular visitor destinations on the coast.

A consultation will also take place this autumn on a suggested council-wide shoppers permit giving discounted rates, similar to that which has operated in West Dorset for over 20 years, and will be consulted upon this autumn.

Towns will continue to be offered free car parking on four days a year together with Small Business Saturday and one weekday in December.

Chairman Nic Nicol of the Blandford Town Team said: ““I can understand the need for parking charges to go up, and like the idea of the permit scheme, but extending the chargeable hours to between 8am and 8pm and including Sundays is likely to be hugely counterproductive.”

Town councillor Roger Carter said: “It's an appalling decision. How on earth is our evening economy ever going to recover after Covid? It's a slap in the face to the many people around Blandford who are struggling financially.”

Catherine Chapman, chairman of the Blandford Business Support Group, said: “My initial thoughts were we are trying to bring people into Blandford NOT turn them away.  I appreciate the Council need to raise funds, but if the council is not careful the already suffering High Streets will definitely close for good.  I will be making businesses aware of this at the next Blandford Business Support Group on 5 November.”

Both Blandford’s county councillors have opposed the move, saying they will be questioning officers and voicing their objections to the portfolio holder and Leader of the council.

Councillor Byron Quayle said: “Like many residents in Dorset I was surprised by the announcement regarding the parking changes in a press release from Dorset Council. “Although I support a fair funding model in which carpark users are charged equally across Dorset, I do not support the new recommendations and will be voicing my strong objections to the portfolio holder and the Leader of Dorset Council.

“Simply, Sunday charges will negatively impact Blandford business and charging from 6pm to 8pm does not take into account the pressures on local residents living in a town that does not have adequate on road parking. We need to encourage and support residents to use our carparks to avoid parking dangerously in over-subscribed and narrow streets like those in parts of Blandford.”

Councillor Nocturin Lacey Clarke added “My wife and I, as residents in town that don’t have parking, will definitely be affected badly.”

Cllr Ray Bryan, Portfolio Holder for Highways, Travel and Environment, said: “Changes needed to be made for a more consistent approach. As a council in a challenging financial position, we are trying to achieve a delicate balance of maximising income from our car parks while ensuring residents and visitors will still choose to support our high streets, beaches and attractions.

“While we were looking at these charges before the pandemic hit, it is more important than ever to make these changes now. Through national lockdown measures, people self-isolating and temporary free parking schemes, we have lost around £2m from our car parks so far this year at a time when we need the money most.”