MORE than six months after announcing it wanted to charge for on-street parking Dorset County Council is gathering evidence about parking problems in its town centres.

The questionnaire was been sent to town, district and borough councils – who were given seven working days to respond.

The proposal, announced last August, to charge motorists for on-street parking in Bridport, caused an storm of protest and a Bridport News-backed campaign saw more than 6000 signing a petition and hundreds filling in a questionnaire about the town’s parking.

Faced with such strong opposition the county agreed in October to go away and think again.

A policy panel is now considering on-street pay and display parking and has sent out a questionnaire as part of an informal consultation with councils and businesses.

A Dorset County Council spokesman said the panel was looking out whether the scheme could help with congestion.

He said: “Feedback from this survey will be considered by the panel at its next meeting in March and used to help write an informative report to go to the county council’s cabinet in April.”

Sarah Price, county council senior traffic engineering technical officer, said the questionnaire did not imply on-street pay and display is to be installed.

She said: “On-street pay and display is only one measure that the county council can use to assist communities maintain the vitality of their centres, but the results will help inform the panel of issues that may be impacting on the attractiveness of town centres for residents and visitors.”

Bridport market spokesman Roy Gregory, who helped spearhead the opposition to charges, said: “The response period is far too short, given that organisations and councils forward plan their meetings far ahead - expecting them to find time and resource to enlist views and complete the documentation in such a time-frame is unfair.

“Given the importance of the subject to all towns in Dorset surely a longer opportunity to have more responses is required, is this a democracy or not?”

County, district and town councillor Ros Kayes, who helped organise the town’s own parking questionnaire last year, said she had tried to get an extension on the deadline but without success, as did town clerk Bob Gillis.

Bridport Coun Dave Rickard said the town council was pleased about the review of proposals.

He said: “Bearing in mind the strength of feeling locally against the original proposal, the town council hopes that the consultation will be as full as possible and that this initial questionnaire will be just the first stage of the evidence gathering.

“We hope sufficient time is allowed for all the consultation, to ensure that people have the opportunity to comment before any decisions are taken on this very important issue for the town.”

THE questionnaire asked if how many on-street parking spaces are in the town centre and whether they are sufficient.

It also wants to know what problems the number of spaces cause, if there is enough off-street car parking, who busy is the town, and what evidence supports it, who often is the town centre congested and when, what transport options are there for people coming into town, how well used are they, what groups have trouble getting to town and what is unique about th town and how best can it evolve in the next decade or two.

Respondents are also being asked to chose which options would best fit their towns – no parking controls, no parking at all, free limited waiting, charged limited waiting, more off-street parking, more loading bays, more taxi bays, residents’ parking and disabled bays.

In contrast the town’s own survey asked why people parking on the road and not in car parks, how often they used the spaces, how long they stayed, at what times, where they shopped, how much would they spend on parking, would charges change habits and encourage the use of supermarkets more.