Rochford District Council has decided to keep Saturday afternoon parking free in council-run car parks.

The move was made possible after a £60,000 saving was identified from a contingency fund put in place with the introduction of the Local Council Tax Support Scheme.

As part of the budget setting for 2014/15 it had been agreed to introduce Saturday afternoon off-street car parking charges, with the income estimated at between £62,500 and £65,000. This income was deemed necessary to avoid lowering the council’s standards of service.

However, the charging scheme was reviewed at a Full Council meeting tonight.

Portfolio holder for Enterprise, Councillor Mike Steptoe said: “As a Council, it is vital that we listen to the residents and businesses in our District and act upon them wherever possible.

“As such, we became aware of just how unpopular the prospect of Saturday afternoon car parking charges was to those who live and work in our District.

“We decided to take stock and asked our officers to see if there was any other way of finding the money to meet this gap in our budget – and I’m delighted to say that they have been able to do so.”

The Local Council Tax Support Scheme was introduced by Government for 2013/14, replacing the national Council Tax benefit scheme with a scheme of council tax discounts set and administered by the local authority.

It required local authorities to take on the financial risk for estimating and the demand.

To manage this risk, a contingency budget of £100,000 was put into the 2013/14 budget and was reduced to £60,000 for 2014/15. The contingency budget is fully funded by Government New Burdens Grant for 2014/15.  Cllr Steptoe added: “It has become apparent following the closure of the 2013/14 accounts that it would be possible to source £60,000 from this contingency fund.

“This was possible due to the fact that the Council’s forecasts for the Local Council Tax Support were so accurate, along with the fact that there has been a continuing reduction in demand as unemployment reduces in the Rochford District.”

During the Full Council meeting the following was also agreed:

To raise parking charges in Council pay and display car parks

To introduce parking charges for all Blue Badge holders, in line with the Equalities Act 2010, to require all Blue Badge Holders to be treated equally by paying the same fee. At present, those with a road tax exemption park free. The changes mean that all Blue Badge Holders will be required to pay for parking , however, providing the blue badge is displayed in the vehicle, they will be granted a one hour concession beyond the expiry time printed on their pay and display ticket to account for mobility issues.

To extend the charging period in Old Ship Lane, Rochford from up to 2 hours to up to 4 hours.

That the Portfolio holder for Enterprise be provided with a comprehensive report on a rolling six month basis in order to be able to determine whether there is a need to amend the Council’s charges and operating conditions for its car parks.