‘We want to run our car parks’, says Swaffham town council

The Buttercross in Swaffham. ENGANL00120140402160040
The Buttercross in Swaffham. ENGANL00120140402160040
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Town councillors could take over the running of Swaffham’s car parks if talks between them and district officials are successful.

The authority has voted to formally request the transfer of the sites’ management from Breckland Council if an agreement can be reached between them.

Draft terms of reference are now set to be drawn up as part of the continuing negotiations, which could ultimately lead to parking charges being introduced to the town.

The move, which was unanimously approved at a meeting on Wednesday, follows long-standing concerns over how the town’s car parks were being managed.

Most of the calls for action have centred on the Market Place, where it is claimed that drivers regularly park all day, despite a maximum stay of only two hours being permitted.

Motorists can already park all day in the nearby Theatre Street car park.

Last year, Breckland Council admitted it had “no plans” to enforce the Market Place time limit, despite calls for action to be taken to resolve the problem.

The latest meeting was told that the town councils of Swaffham and Attleborough had approached the district council to discuss the possibility of taking over running their own car parks, because the towns were both facing similar issues.

Town clerk Richard Bishop admitted officials in other towns thought they were “totally mad” to pursue the idea, but suggested district officers were open to it.

He said: “We’ve had really positive discussions. I think we are pushing at an open door.”

Concerns were raised over a proposal that the town council should spend around £700 on drafting the proposed transfer orders.

But members were told that was necessary in order for the discussions to progress.

Mayor Paul Darby said: “We’ve got to kickstart it somewhere.”

But Anne Thorp said the council had to be fully aware of the condition of the sites before making a final decision over whether to take them on or not.

She said: “We need to make sure, if we do take over the car parks, that they’re OK from the start.”

But Mr Bishop earlier said the council would either take them over in good condition or with money available to put them in that state.

A transfer of management to the town council also raises the possibility of motorists being charged to use the car parks.

At present, parking is free under a Breckland Council policy which does not impose charges in any of the district’s five main towns.

Asked whether the town council would be able to charge, Mr Bishop said: “Yes. Management decisions would be taken by this council.”

Supporters of charges claim they could help to keep traffic flowing in areas like the Market Place.

But business leaders have previously claimed any such move would be resisted by traders.