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Councillors clash over Royal Borough finances in free parking scheme

Councillors clash over Royal Borough finances in free parking scheme

Councillors clashed over finances last week after a free car parking initiative was voted through by cabinet – without the support of a senior finance officer.

Members unanimously agreed that Royal Borough residents holding Advantage Cards should be entitled to free parking for three hours in council car parks. The scheme, which started on Monday, will be in place for four weeks, finishing on Sunday, July 12.

Card holders should display their card on their dashboard to make use of the offer.

It is estimated the Royal Borough will lose ‘a potential’ £35,000 in income.

Director of resources Adele Taylor said she could not back the move because the council had ‘not identified exactly where the money is coming from’.

The measure, according to the Conservatives, aims to ‘stimulate the local economy’ with high streets and retail reopening this week.

However, opposition councillors asked how the council could afford the loss.

Leader of the local independents Cllr Lynne Jones (OWRA, Old Windsor) said: “If we cannot cover £35,000 from our reserves, looking into the future, why not?”

And Ms Taylor was also unsure of where the money would be sourced.

She said: “Yes, we have COVID-19 [funding] from central government, but we know that won’t cover all of our costs at the moment.

“We are anticipating there may be further support coming, we do not know the quantum of that support.

“If there is a recommendation to spend additional money on making a change of policy, the normal route of doing that would be to identify exactly where we would fund it, and at this stage, this paper does not propose where that is going to be funded from.”

Ms Taylor added this could either be done through reduced expenditure somewhere else, or additional grant funding. A ‘high street fund’ was also mentioned as a ‘potential’ source of income.

The council’s lead member for finance Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot & Sunninghill), said that there was about £4.9million in the coronavirus ‘bucket’, and the scheme could be funded through this.

He added: “I fully understand where Adele is coming from. There is absolutely no doubt that if we are going to potentially reduce our income, we should know where that funding is coming from and I would guess that this is the last time that we make such a move like this.

“There is a balancing act between the income loss, and the desire to show that we are determined to support them [local businesses].

“This amount of £35,000 will probably be paid back within the borough multiple times by that action.”

W The Royal Borough also made changes to other parking arrangements from Monday.

Parking restrictions in residential roads in the evenings and weekends will now be enforced, to ensure that residents can park outside their homes.

The changes will mean that all council car parks will fully reopen.

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