ENDING the council’s free parking scheme gradually is the right thing to do for retailers, residents and taxpayers, the leader of the borough council says.

Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) has agreed to begin reinstating tariffs in council-owned car parks across the borough, nine weeks after opting to waive all charges when lockdown measures were first announced.

The gradual reintroduction bucks the trend of other local authorities, which have reinstated all parking charges already or will be doing so as early as next week.

Residents in Test Valley will instead be able to use council-owned car parks free of charge for a full week after non-essential shops are scheduled to reopen on June 15.

After that there will be a month in which charges only apply to those parking for more than two hours, before full tariffs are reinstated towards the end of July.

The changes were agreed at a cabinet meeting on Friday evening where Councillor Phil North, leader of the authority, said: “We want to provide people with an additional week after the non-essential shops open to help the businesses get their shops stocked, and help people get used to the fact that there will be a slightly different regime starting up – and to make sure we’ve communicated that fully.”

It means there will be no charges until June 22, after which residents will be able to park for free for two hours before tariffs apply.

Cllr North continued: “Beyond that we want to ensure it is easy for people to access the town centre and to encourage residents to come back to the town centre in a controlled and safe way, so they get used to coming back, doing their shopping and spending a bit of time there.”

The proposal differs from measures taken at nearby councils, such as Wiltshire, Southampton, the New Forest and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, each of which have either reinstated parking charges and restrictions already or will be doing so as of Monday, June 1.

The tax implications of continuing to offer free parking were also discussed at Friday’s meeting, with the authority estimated to have lost £165,000 a month in waiving parking charges.

“I think this is a fair and balanced approach that does right by our retailers and residents,” Cllr North said, adding: “It’s also fair to our taxpayers. If we’re not creating income from our car parks, we would have to generate that income in another way to pay for frontline services and I think people understand that.”

Councillors voted in favour of the proposals unanimously during the meeting.

Cllr David Coole had expressed a desire to speak on the issue during the public participation portion. However, he did not attend the meeting and so was unable to do so.