An online petition has been launched in a bid to prevent a ten per cent rise in car parking charges across Frome.

Somerset Council has published proposals to increase the prices at all its off-street car parks, as well as the on-street parking it manages and the costs of the season tickets which it issues.

An increase in these areas was built into the council’s annual budget, which was approved in February – with the council estimating the increase could generate an additional £726,000.

But members of the Conservative opposition group are now seeking to challenge this increase through both an online petition and a request that the issue be debated in public.

This comes in the run-up to the Somerton and Frome by-election, where the Liberal Democrats (who are the ruling party on the council) are looking to win the seat back from the Tories following the resignation of David Warburton.

Sarah Dyke, the Lib Dems’ candidate, supported the car parking rises as a member of the council’s executive committee (on which she sits as the portfolio holder for the environment and climate change).

Her Conservative challenger Faye Purbrick – the current division member for Yeovil South – has claimed the increases will hinder Frome’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and hit residents hard during the ongoing cost of living crisis.

The party has launched an online petition (using the website, rather than the official Somerton and Frome constituency website) to ask the council to reverse the planned increases.

Ms Purbrick said: “Independent shops and businesses in Frome currently face a raft of economic challenges, and this terrible decision to raise the car parking prices by ten per cent will only cause more issues.

“If elected as Somerton and Frome’s next MP, I will do everything in my power to support and back these businesses and workers for the benefit of everyone in Frome – and that includes working to ensure this decision is overturned.

“It’s why I want people to back the campaign, sign the petition and send the message that these plans will not work and are not wanted.”

The council said the increase would be necessary to allow it to continue delivering public services at their current level.

Steve Deakin, the council’s parking services manager, said: “Parking charges and fees are to be increased to reflect recent inflationary pressures and to maintain the encouragement to alternative types of transport to town centres, such as buses, cycling and car sharing.

“The increased charges and fees will enable the council to continue to meet its overall transport objectives without increasing an additional demand on the general expenditure fund.”

Council decisions can be ‘called in’ by councillors – meaning they can be debated in public and a vote taken by the relevant committee on whether the original decision should stand.

The car parking decision has been called in officially by two Conservative councillors – Diogo Rodrigues (Bridgwater East and Bawdrip) and Tom Power (Wincanton and Bruton).

If the call-in request is approved, it will be debated at the next meeting of the council’s climate and place scrutiny committee – whose chairman, Martin Dimery, is also standing in the upcoming by-election for the Green Party.

Mr Rodrigues – the shadow portfolio holder for transport and digital – said he was concerned about an “imbalance” in how parking charges would increase across the county, claiming that the ten per cent increase would not be uniformly applied.

He said: “There seems to be an imbalance in increased charges, with no explanation as to why such imbalance has been introduced.

“For example, in Minehead, parking for four hours in the Quay Street car park was £4.40, and soon it will be £5.50 – a 25 per cent increase.

“In contrast, parking for four hours at the Fons George car park in Taunton is currently £4.40 and will soon become £4.80 – a nine per cent increase.

“When we raised these concerns, we were told they were a ‘formatting error’ and had not been corrected. Can we be confident that there are no further errors?

“We have not been given sight of the parking charges which are not being increased or those that are being reduced, nor the reasons for this. This should have been made available for us to consider the changes as a whole.”

The next meeting of the climate and place scrutiny committee is due to take place in Taunton on July 19th – the day before the Somerton and Frome by-election.

The full list of candidates standing in the by-election are as follows:

  • Lorna Clarke (Christian People’s Alliance)
  • Martin Dimery (Green)
  • Sarah Dyke (Liberal Democrats)
  • Bruce Evans (Reform UK)
  • Neil Guild (Labour)
  • Rosie Mitchell (Independent)
  • Faye Purbrick (Conservative)
  • Peter Richardson (UKIP)

Members of the public will have the opportunity to question the candidates at hustings organised by Frome Town Council, which will take place at the Cheese and Grain in Frome on Sunday (July 16th) from 3pm to 5pm.

LDRS, Daniel Mumby