B&NES Council voted to end free parking in Midsomer Norton and Radstock at a Full Council meeting last night (February 20th).

The 2024/25 budget — described by council leader Kevin Guy (Bathavon North, Liberal Democrat) as “not just balanced but boldly ambitious” — will see £5.8m more spent on social care, a £5m investment into council house building, and £2m of income from Bath’s clean air zone spent on a new “Scholar’s Way” cycle route in the south of Bath.

Other money saving and income generation measures in the budget will see council tax increased by the maximum 4.99% — of which two percentage points will be ring fenced for spending on adult social care — and reduced opening hours at the Bath and Welton recycling centres.

Mr Elliott, Council cabinet member for resources, defended the council’s plans to end free parking in the Somer Valley, insisting it is “the right thing to do.” The move has faced opposition from local councillors and shopkeepers who have warned it will “kill the town.”

Mr Elliott said: “We are investing £3.5m in Midsomer Norton High Street. We are not leaving Midsomer Norton bereft. There is much work going on there. But the unfairness of having one area that has got free parking when the rest of the area doesn’t is not sound.”

An amendment from the Labour opposition on the council had proposed spreading the cut to charity services across four years, along with a host of other alternative spending and savings proposals including buying ten digital advertising screens to raise revenue instead of ending free parking in the Somer Valley. Liz Hardman (Labour, Paulton) said the proposals were “a prudent use of finances.”

But Mr Elliott said that if they were serious proposals they should have been brought forward earlier through the council scrutiny process. He said: “This is a hodge podge of various suggestions which we have to vote on as a block.”

An amendment from the Green group, calling for the council to invest £200k into “school streets” — where roads by schools are closed at school run times to encourage walking to school — and to scrap Bath councillor’s free parking permits for council business, was also dismissed as a last minute “stunt” by Mr Elliott.

Green group leader Joanna Wright (Green, Lambridge) said she had been told last year the council was looking at school streets but none had yet been delivered. But Mr Elliott said he had already recently signed off spending on £250k from the clear air zone reserve on school streets. He said: “It’s already going to happen; it’s signed off. It’s happening this year.”

The amendments from the Labour and Green groups were both voted down.

LDRS, John Wimperis