MAJOR changes to car parking in Winchester could be implemented as council bosses attempt to address a multi-million-pound financial shortfall over the next few years.

Evening and Sunday city centre car park charges, scrapped discounts and park and ride fee increases are just some of the options being explored to help the city council bridge the gap.

Civic chiefs are being forced to take significant decisions as current forecasts predict a budget shortfall of £3.4million in 2023-24.

This is despite already creating schemes to save more than £1.6million next year and increasing these savings to deliver more than £3million for the local authority by the end of the three years that follow.

Officers are in the middle of a comprehensive review of car parking and some of the emerging policies could deliver a major shake-up of the service.

Six car parking related options identified in a report to cabinet, which met yesterday (October 23), could yield an additional £1.23million a year.

At present, Winchester is one of the few Hampshire cities or towns to offer free evening parking.

Mark Mills-Goodlet, chairman of the Winchester Business Strategy Group and Hampshire Chamber of Trade director, warned the proposed parking measures outlined in the budget options report could have a negative impact for city centre business, particularly introducing evening and Sunday charges.

“Honestly, I think it will have a detrimental effect on the businesses in the High Street,” said Mr Mills-Goodlet.

“It is okay to use park and ride if you are going in for a small shop but if you want something substantial, you can’t take it back on the bus.

“I travel from Hedge End to come to Winchester in the evenings a lot. There are traders in Winchester that depend on evening trade and this would have a big impact on that. If they start charging in the evening, people might as well go to Southampton.”

A report to cabinet from Cllr Neil Cutler, portfolio holder for finance and risk, says “the financial challenge is at a level which cannot be met by operational changes alone”.

“Along with other local authorities the council is anticipating a significant financial challenge over the medium term financial planning period to 2023-24,” says Cllr Cutler’s report.

A series of wide-ranging budget options have been outlined to cabinet, with all of these deemed to have a large impact on service delivery or how the council charges for services.

Theses actions include (potential annual financial benefit):

  • Parking changes to increase some rates by three per cent in Winchester, introduce £2 flat charges on Sundays and evenings in central car parks, increase park and ride daily charges by 50p, remove concessions for Cattlemarket and Worthy Lane car parks and increase Market town parking charges by 10 per cent (£1.23million).
  • Introduce chargeable garden waste service (£500,000).
  • Increase council tax by three per cent rather than two per cent (£292,000).
  • Reduce toilet provision in the city (£50,000).
  • End 24-hour active monitoring of CCTV (£150,000).
  • All out elections every four years (£100,000).
  • Review community transport/shopmobility (£100,000).
  • Developer fee to discharge employment and skills plan costs (£100,000).
  • Advertising hoardings at key locations such as Friarsgate car park/ bus station (£25,000).
  • Further review of grants programme (£50,000).

However, even if the council took on 70 per cent of these measures, there would still be a deficit of £1.5million in 2023-24.

It is proposed to create a transition reserve, which will use the projected underspends from the current financial year, to mitigate against shortfalls that could arise from uncertain events, such as Brexit, and “one off” costs, such as creating the Climate Action Plan.

Many challenges faced by the city council are due to a reduction in funding directly from central government and a reduction in a number of key grants.

Cllr Cutler’s report adds: “These changes in local government funding from 2021-22 are expected to have a significant impact on authorities that have seen strong growth in housing and business, such as Winchester.

“This will also create a significant shift in the balance of funding, with council tax making up a much larger share of overall funding.”

Cabinet members were due to discuss the financial issues ahead of determining the medium financial plan in December.