‘Toddler tax’ fear for St Albans district council’s proposed budget

St Albans City & District Council

St Albans City & District Council - Credit: Archant

FREE Sunday parking at St Albans city centre’s public car parks could be scrapped under a raft of measures being considered by the district council to plug a £1.1 million black hole.

Among the more contentious budget changes being discussed at tonight’s St Albans district council (SADC) cabinet meeting are the proposed introduction of charges for splash park users at Verulamium Park and increasing car parking fees at Westminster Lodge.

Some councillors have baulked at the dramatic changes, which include paving the way for “pop-up” florists at cemeteries, introducing pest control charges and increasing admission charges at Verulamium Museum.

One councillor has dubbed a suggested £1 charge to use the splash park as a “toddler tax”.

But SADC executive leader and Cabinet chairman Cllr Julian Daly has defended the proposed fees as the council has to find new ways of mitigating its budget gap, the bulk of which is a result of a £700,000 reduction in its government grant.

However there are fears that the push to be leaner could see the council appear meaner, with Labour leader Cllr Martin Leach warning that parents “won’t be happy” paying for their children to use the splash park.

He described the suggested introduction of a £1 charge to park in council-run car parks in St Albans on a Sunday as “a sensitive area”.

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Green Party Cllr Simon Grover questioned a proposal to hire out council parks and open spaces for events, such as weddings, and a bid to increase income from Rothamsted Park facilities which could potentially save the council a total of £48,000.

He said: “Services are being trimmed to the bone here. It sends a message that if you want a service from SADC that you have to pay for it now. Some of these proposals are deeply worrying, and controversial.

“The car park charge changes would be very unpopular with local businesses who think that fees are already too high.”

He said it would be “regrettable” if admission was increased at Verulamium Museum and a fee introduced at the splash park as, “they are both popular and provide a cheap day out”.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Anthony Rowlands described the budget saving proposals as “woefully thin on detail” and that “many are unattainable, risky or unfair, or all three.

“Introducing a £1 charge for the splash park is a ‘toddler tax’ by another name.”

But Cllr Daly said that SADC was faced with a “large budget gap”.

Although the Tories were defeated last year when they tried to ramp up car parking fees at Westminster Lodge, the group is again pushing for an increase.

The council is proposing to slash the amount of time visitors can park for free at Westminster Lodge – currently for up to three hours – to one or two hours, with fee increases to park three-to-four hours or all day.

Cllr Daly said there was a concern that people were taking advantage of free parking but not using the park or Westminster Lodge facilities.

He said that introducing £1 fees to Sunday parking in the city would put council-run car parks in line with private counterparts, for example at The Maltings, and would thus be “easier to market”.

And £20,000 could be saved by reducing the number of public toilets, by encouraging shops in the city to open additional facilities.

Cllr Daly explained that a vandalised public toilet in Thompsons Close in Harpenden was closed after Sainsbury’s had been “persuaded” to open alternative facilities inside its High Street supermarket.