THE decision to bring back parking charges in Knutsford at a time businesses need all the support they can get is being questioned.

Cheshire East Council announced it would be imposing parking charges when non-essential shops began trading again last Monday.

But the decision has caused anger among many councillors across the borough – both Conservative opposition and backbench Labour members.

Cllr Stewart Gardiner, Conservative CEC member for Knutsford, told the Guardian that he does 'not think it is appropriate to reinstate charges now'.

He said: “It would probably be far better for CEC to say there are no parking charges in June and July, but to review the situation in August, to allow people to get back into town and to help the local economy.

Knutsford Guardian:

"Not emptying the bins and putting up parking charges are the two things that get everybody riled up.

"I could understand it if I was the accountant advising the council, but if we are looking to support our market towns and encourage inward investment we need to ensure we have got town centres to invest in.

"If no one comes here to shop then we will not have that."

A petition launched by Dr Kieran Mullan, Conservative MP for Crewe and Nantwich, calling for the decision to be reversed has won the support of Holmes Chapel MP Fiona Bruce and councillors from across the political divide.

Of the £5 million a year CEC usually rakes in from parking charges, around £3 million of that goes towards parking services, while the rest is spent on frontline services.

Cllr Gardiner added: “To a certain extent, they had nothing to lose when they stopped charging during the lockdown.

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"The council is not supposed to be reliant on parking charges to support its actions elsewhere, although I am sure most councils up and down the country do use some money from car parks in that way.

"It is the difference between being in power and being in opposition – sometimes you have to make decisions that, hand on heart, you don't agree with."

In a public plea for more funding from Government last month, CEC said Covid-19 was costing the council £60 million, while the authority had received around one-third of that in support from Westminster.

CEC is due to conduct a parking review in each of its towns, which would consider more appropriate charging.

Labour Cllr Laura Crane, cabinet member for highways, said: “The money raised from car parking is one of many income streams for the council.

Knutsford Guardian:

“The council is facing unprecedented financial pressure as a result of the pandemic, and the decision to reintroduce these charges has been taken in that context.

“We must also act to encourage people to use active transport over their cars, such as walking and cycling, as this reduces congestion in our town centres.

“The full review of parking charges across the borough, although it is currently delayed by the pandemic, will be rolled out when circumstances allow us to do so.”