DORSET Council claims it has been unable to produce any evidence to show whether increased parking charges this year at resort towns has had a negative effect.

More than 7,000 signed a petition  earlier in the year to claim the hike in parking fees was damaging the town’s economy and even putting some locals from attending town centre medical appointments. It demanded a reduction in fees to the same level as places such as Dorchester and other market town.

Rises in parking charges in Bridport and West Bay were previously described as 'clumsy' and 'over-simplistic' at a meeting of Bridport Town Council.

As reported, Dorset Council has upped charges at its car parks, including the Bridport Arms, Esplanade, Quayside, East Beach, Station Yard and West Bay Road car parks to a staggering £15 a day.

Bridport Town Council has blasted Dorset Council's approach.

Cllr Dave Rickard, leader of Bridport Town Council, said: "We echo the residents and visitors to Bridport and West Bay in our concern regarding the sudden sharp increase in parking fees, and we have asked Dorset Council for information on car park usage since the latest rise so that we can monitor the impact.

“The town council recognises Dorset Council’s need to compensate for a large reduction in government funding to councils over recent years, without adding to residents’ Council Tax bills.

"We also understand that parking charges can be a useful tool in discouraging unnecessary car journeys, but the lack of support for public transport in rural areas by both the government and Dorset Council gives most people no other alternative.

Littlemoor and Preston councillor Louie O’Leary said at the time that Weymouth residents and those of other Dorset coastal towns, were being asked to pay what amounted to a “beach tax.”

There was outcry when the council said it would review the effect of the increased fees – but not until September. Opponent said that was too late and by then the damage would be entrenched.

A report prepared for the September Cabinet meeting says it is difficult to tell if there has been a negative effect on the local economy but says that income from parking fees has gone up – which it claims is a good thing for the council and for car park maintenance which is partly paid for by the parking fee income.

The report makes no recommendation about changing the fees.

The new higher level parking fees, which came into effect in May 2023, cover Weymouth, Charmouth, Lyme Regis, West Bay, Portland and West Bexington, where charges of up to £15 for ten hours are now payable in summer, £9 in winter.

The council say the new fees were set after bench-marking against other coastal visitor destination car parks in the South West. A chart produced by the council shows only neighbouring Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole being more expensive at £22; while East Devon charges £8; New Forest £9; Cornwall £10 and Torbay £10.50.

Corporate director Matthew Piles says in his report to councillors that allthough there has been an increase in all charges there has been an overall improvement in parking revenue – up year-on-year by 13% for all car parks and on-street parking in April; 19% in May; 22% in June and 10% in July.

However the changes for the most expensive car parks show a different pattern  -  up 1% in April; 34% in May; 27% in June and 1% in July.

Mr Piles says that weather has a big impact and in July rainfall was up on the previous year, temperature was down and sunshine hours were also down.

He says that many car parks have seen new meters introduced, which could also have affected the figures: “Transaction data could not be extracted from the old parking machines, so therefore car park usage data is limited to when the new machines were installed. We are therefore not able to measure whether car park usage has increased, reduced or stayed the same since the parking charges were increased,” he said.

Data where new machines were installed in higher fee car parks show increases in revenue between May and July, but the council said it does not to have any data from previous years to compare with.

Said Mr Piles: “Income generated through car park charging is reinvested in the Highways Service to the benefit of road users and other residents, visitors and businesses. Any reduction in car park income results in less funding directly available for the highway service. Consequently, Dorset Council would then have to:  Reduce the spending on the highway service and/or transfer funding from other services to support the highway service budget.”