MANSFIELD’S fragile town centre economy could be at risk thanks to its £1.50 minimum-fee council car parks, it has been claimed.
In April, Mansfield District Council scrapped one-hour stays in favour of two-hour minimum £1.50 periods at some of its sites.
Now some councillors, shoppers and business leaders are calling for a U-turn, saying the move could be driving people elsewhere.
The authority made £192,000 less than it expected to from its car parks in the last financial year.
Coun Roger Sutcliffe, the authority’s portfolio holder for resources, has said income from car parking is an ‘area of concern’ for the council.
The 2010 to 2011 financial year figures show use of 17 council-run town car parks was consistently below 100,000 users per month from November 2010 to March this year.
This is compared to a trend of more than 100,000 users every month for the previous three years.
Regular town shopper Mark Allen (51) hit out against the current system after he and wife Julie ended up paying £1.50 at Church Lane car park for a 45-minute stay on an errand to the bank last week.
Mark also complained to the council about its signage - which says fees are £1.50 for two hours and 80p per hour thereafter - when only minimum two-hour add-ons are allowed.
“You wonder how many other people have been confused by it.” Mark, who lives on Ruddington Court on the Bellamy Road estate, said.
“It should just be put down to an hourly charge - I don’t like to lose £1.50 for the sake of 45 minutes.”
Coun Sutcliffe revealed even he had been caught out by the system.
“I parked at the back of Wilkinson (Clumber Street car park) to pick up something heavy,” he said.
“I paid the £1.50 for eight minutes. But I don’t think the January change is a mistake - it depends who the individual is.
“It does seem an excessive charge for someone who is only parking for a few minutes.”
Coun Sutcliffe added that the aim of the two-hour minimums, operating at nine of the council’s 17 town sites, had been to encourage people to make longer stays in town while dropping the overall hourly cost.
The authority is looking into the possibility of a new system in time for the next financial year, he said.
The council had expected to pull in more than £1.9m in 2010 to 2011 from car parking but only collected £1,788,000 - a shortfall of £192,000.
One-hour stays had been available in all council car parks for between 70p and 90p before January.
Coun Joyce Bosnjak said a change was needed and fears some shoppers could be going elsewhere.
“At a time when we should be encouraging people to come into Mansfield it’s not going to help if they can’t afford to park,” she said.
She said it was possible some Mansfield residents could even be travelling to Sutton to shop, where Ashfield District Council has a one-hour 20p option at many town centre car parks.
Elsewhere, in Chesterfield, many car parks are two-hour £1.40 minimums and in Newark town centre there is a £1 first hour option.
John Sankey, chairman of the business-funded Mansfield Business Improvement District scheme (BID), said: “In my view the pay-on-exit method is the perfect structure because then you can stay as long as you like without rushing back to the car and you only pay for what you use.”