GOOD news for car owners – Dorset Council is not planning any immediate increase in parking fees for the coming months.

While other fees will rise by 5 per cent from April parking will remain unchanged, for now.

Car parks are currently charging winter rates but these prices will go up as normal on April 1 when motorists will be charged the higher summer rate, which was decided previously.

The decision comes after controversy during the past 12 months when big fee rises, especially for the county’s resort towns, were widely opposed by businesses and residents.

Said a council statement: “There is no intention to increase tariffs in our car parks this year. We will continue to review these prices on a regular basis, and officers will be going back to Scrutiny Committee sometime after May with the latest data.”

The authority has previously said that car park income for last year was down on the figure predicted at the start of the financial year by £2.5 million, which it blamed largely on wet weather in July and August. The two months in an average year, account for 40 per cent of the council’s annual parking income.

The council also had difficulties, dating back to the Covid period, in securing new parking machines capable of taking cash and cards with many of the machines it inherited from previous councils not working or breaking down on a regular basis, with spare parts difficult to find.

Portfolio holder for highways, parking and the environment, Cllr Ray Bryan says that with most of the new machines now in place the council is able to analyse the data much easier, on a daily basis, if it wants to.

The council has not revealed how much it paid for the machines and has declined to say what the parking app’, Just Park, takes for each transaction it handles for Dorset Council, claiming the figure is ‘commercially sensitive.’

Cllr Bryan said that the new parking fee structure, with new bands depending on location, had simplified charges and had been the right thing to do – with the council also introducing a new range of parking permits for residents, which will help cut costs, if you can afford them.

The view is not shared by all - many claimed last summer that the hike in fees was undermining the local economy with petitions calling for a reduction in charges attracting thousands of signatures, including more than 7,000 in Weymouth.

Cllr Bryan said the authority would continue to look at ways of increasing its car parking income, money which was used to maintain the county’s highways.

“We keep getting told that we are the highest of parking, but that simply isn’t true,” he said.

Figures for the coming financial year predict gross car parking income at almost £11m, with £681,000 of that coming from parking fines.

Dorset’s highways budget typically runs to £50m a year with more than half of the income provided through Department of Transport block funding and external bids, with car parking income contributing around £6m to the overall total.

Around £16m is spent annually on maintaining 2,550 miles of roads in the Dorset Council area with £2m maintaining highway bridges and other structures and £860,000 on maintaining foot and cycle paths.