B&NES Council voted to end free parking in Midsomer Norton and Radstock at a Full Council meeting on 20th February set to discuss the upcoming budget, The Journal speak to Councillor Hughes and Councillor Auton following the decision.

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.”

Independent Councillor Shaun Hughes, who has been standing against the implementation of parking charges, expressed his concerns to The Journal: “I was appalled by the statements by Cllr Auton and Cllr Ellis at the Council budget meeting, it is clear that this Lib-Dem administration have no comprehension of Midsomer Norton High Streets economy and the serious risk created by this short-term money grab to prop up their budget. Adding financial pressure to our High Street while pouring huge amounts of money into a Fashion Museum that historically has lost £500,000 per year clearly demonstrates the Lib Dem priorities.

“I have tried through numerous Cabinet meetings, Scrutiny panels and emails to Cabinet members to work with them to explain the potential damage to a fragile local economy however they continue regardless with a Bath Centric approach while sat in their Guildhall offices with no actual data, parking surveys or impact assessments.

“Lets be absolutely clear, Councillor Auton standing in a car park approaching people when they have the time, is not a survey and its dangerous for any Council to even consider making important decisions based on this type of poor data particularly when the decision impacts the livelihoods of so many people and businesses.

“Perhaps Cllr Auton should look at his election leaflet where he claimed the Lib Dems scrapped parking charge proposals? It’s strange how quickly things change now that the election is over!

“To date this Council has tried selling our car park to a supermarket, proposals to build houses on it and two attempts at parking charges, it’s time for this Council to stop creating obstacles to our High Street success and start investing in our town.

“I hope that residents will join me and make their voices heard when the Traffic Regulation Order is released for public comment.”

Councillor Michael Auton told The Journal: “On Tuesday, 20th February, B&NES Councillors approved the draft Council budget for the coming financial year, including the proposed introduction of car parking charges in Midsomer Norton and Radstock, I want to reassure residents that my campaign for two hours free parking and a mechanism to support local businesses continues.

“From the very beginning of this campaign, I have maintained that residents, businesses and I would prefer no charges and parking to remain free of charge. However, I also recognise that with the significant drop in funding from central Government, B&NES Council has no option but to review all opportunities for generating income to fund services which are vital to us all as Council Tax payers.

“In my conversations with over 150 car park users, the majority of people using South Road car park stayed for a relatively short period, up to two hours. This is why I have campaigned so hard to find a compromise that would minimise the impact of parking charges on the majority of people using the car park to visit Midsomer Norton. 

“I am also concerned what impact charges would have on local employees servicing our High Street shops and will continue to call for special provision to support local businesses.

“No final decision on parking will be made until the statutory Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) process has been completed, which will include a full public consultation with residents before any charges can be implemented. I strongly encourage residents to participate to ensure your voice will be heard. The launch date for this has still to be confirmed but I will make sure all your readers know how and when they can contribute.

“In my speech to Council, I reiterated all of these points but also welcomed the investment that is coming our way. B&NES Council is investing in Midsomer Norton High Street regeneration, creating new jobs through the Somer Valley Enterprise Zone (SVEZ), supporting improvements in access to sustainable travel and has long list of highway maintenance projects improving street lighting, drainage, road resurfacing and pedestrian schemes for the town. “I will work hard to ensure that this investment continues.”

An amendment from the Labour opposition on the Council had proposed 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.”

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