PARENTS have been accused of abusing free parking when taking their children to the toddler playground in Henley.
They are currently entitled to a free hour if they use one of the 10 designated spaces next to the playground in Mill Meadows.
However, the town council is planning to introduce a charge of £1.20 an hour because it says parents frequently overstay the hour. It estimates the move could generate an extra £10,000 per annum income.
The move comes after complaints by parents that a lot of the equipment in the play area has been out of action on health and safety grounds for months as the council has been considering a £135,000 refurbishment.
Town clerk Mike Kennedy told a meeting of the council’s recreation and amenities committee on Tuesday that information signs at the car park were ambiguous and the spaces difficult to monitor.
The signs read: “Parking spaces 1-10 are for use by those accompanying their children to the play area. Stay limited to one hour only.”
Mr Kennedy said: “There is nothing on the signs to the effect that there is free parking. It is also extremely difficult to manage, particularly during busy periods. It is impossible to say whether they are there for an hour or more. The proposal is to remove the signs and the spaces become like any other space for which a fee is paid.”
The cost of parking at Mill Meadows for up to one hour is currently £1.20 on weekdays.
The committee agreed to recommend that the charge is introduced despite members disagreeing on the issue.
Councillor Sam Evans insisted that parents should pay to park.
She said: “The kids can go into the playground and I am sure the mums can keep an eye on them for a couple of minutes while they get a ticket. Why should they get special treatment?”
However, she said the designated spaces should remain because they were bigger than a normal space.
Councillor Ian Reissmann said the council was “perfectly entitled” to charge for spaces and Councillor David Clenshaw said: “I fully support abolishing free parking and making it all the same.”
But Mayor-elect Martin Akehurst opposed charging, saying: “It was a good sensible idea to make this free and I hope it remains free.”
Councillor Jeni Wood, who chairs the committee, said: “I know we need the money but I think this is one thing that we can do for our mothers and their children.
“If you have one or two toddlers on the playground you are busy, busy, busy. You haven’t got time to get a ticket. I don’t think we should charge them at all.”
Cllr Evans said the council was due to spend up to £135,000 refurbishing the playground.
She said: “I appreciate we have to look after the mothers of Henley but we are about to spend on a new playground so it is not like we are ignoring them. We are investing in them and their play time.”
Parents said charging to use the car park could put people off using the playground.
Nicola Gordon, of King’s Road, Henley, said: “I think it’s a good idea to have it free for an hour. If it’s free it brings more people, if you have to pay fewer people will probably come.”
Lyndsay Henderson, of Reading Road, said the free parking encouraged people to use the play area and children to be outside and charging would adversely affect parents who live outside the town centre.
Mother-of-three Sam Lamacraft, of Braybrooke Road, Wargrave, said it would be a “real shame” if parents had to pay to park.
“I don’t think people abuse it,” she said. “They park for an hour and go.”
A final decision will be made by the full council.