Last night, Tandridge District Councillors decided to bring in parking charges in Oxted's car parks - only the FIRST HOUR of parking will be free.
The Council's original proposal was for 30 minutes free parking. OLRG's Councillor, Jackie Wren, campaigned for 2 hours saying that anything less risked seriously damaging businesses because shoppers would go elsewhere or shop online.
In the last two days, OLRG has received more than 300 emails from residents expressing their concern about the charges. Many other people made their views clear on Facebook.
Councillor Wren said afterwards, "I was pleased the free period was increased but despite my best efforts to get 2 hours, they would only agree to increase it to one hour. There is tremendous concern in Oxted about these charges because of the fear they will harm the viability of local businesses. People think it is very unfair to put this extra pressure on businesses who are already struggling with the recent increase in rates and with fierce competition from much larger nearby centres."
Cllr Beverley Connolly (Harestone, Caterham) proposed increasing the free period to 2 hours and she was seconded by Cllr Martin Allen (Tatsfield & Titsey).
But 8 other Councillors on the Community Services Committee - 6 Conservatives and 2 Liberal Democrats - outvoted them and agreed on one hour. They are: Cllr Nick Childs (chairman, Godstone); Cllr Cindy Steer (vice-chairman, Warlingham East & Chelsham & Farleigh); Cllr Eileen Blake-Thomas (Godstone); Cllr Pat Cannon (Chaldon); Cllr Dorinda Cooper (Valley, Caterham); Cllr Geoff Duck (Queens Park, Caterham); Cllr David Lee (Whyteleafe); Cllr Rose Thorn (Godstone).
Councillor Wren also called for plans for Saturday charges to be dropped saying: "There should be no charges on Saturdays in any of the car parks because this, of all days, should have free parking to tempt people into Oxted. The Council's new Parking study says that lower occupancy levels on Saturdays suggest that visitors are choosing to go to other larger centres - anything that reinforces that trend should be rejected." But the Councillors voted through the charges.
Oxted businessman, Stephen Tee, who runs clothing shop, Chanterelle, said after the vote: "In my 35 years of establishing and building my business in Oxted, I cannot think I have faced an issue which will have such damaging consequences. The introduction of these car parking charges will kill business in Oxted both in direct retail and in the service sector. Our High Street will never be the same again.
In addition, Oxted Business has received NO support from Oxted BiD which we pay a levy to as our voice to represent us. Worse than this, in my view, Oxted BiD agreed with the TDC decision.
Quite clearly, neither the Cllrs or Oxted BiD have any understanding of the fragility of running small business. The difference between profit & loss is marginal. So, if for example, our customer numbers fall by 20% we go bust. It is that simple.
In addition, not only does this decision defy all logic but the people who have made it have ignored the findings of a survey that they themselves have commissioned and paid for.
This is a tipping point. A cathartic realisation of how a small body of people can destroy a local economy and damage livelihoods beyond repair. And for what purpose - to put more money in TDC - Into the pockets of the people that are destroying us."
Last night's decision means that charges will apply in Ellice Road Car park between 8am and 5pm on weekdays and Saturdays and in Johnsdale car park and the Council Offices car park on Saturdays between 8am and 5pm.
In exchange for the extra half hour free parking, the Councillors voted to increase the tariff. It will now be £1.50 for 1-2 hours; £3 for 2-3 hours; £4.50 for 3-4 hours and £6.50 for anything over 4 hours.
The charges are likely to take effect in a few months time.