By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Plans to introduce parking fees across parks and public spaces in Leeds – including Kirkstall Abbey – have been branded a “fresh air tax”, by the city’s Liberal Democrat councillors.
Lib Dem group leader Stewart Golton said the charges risked excluding people from “some of the few free leisure attractions left” and that there was “genuine anger” about the idea.
The Labour-run council announced last week it was planning to charge around 40p-an-hour for car parking at public spaces across the city, with Middleton Park, Temple Newsam and Roundhay Park among the biggest places affected.
Prices may vary across sites, but around 30 venues are in line for fees of some kind.
It says the plan will bring in much-needed cash for public services and describe the fees involved as “modest”.
But Councillor Golton attacked the plan on Wednesday, saying: “These parking charges are nothing more than a fresh air tax on the city’s green lungs.
“People are genuinely angry about these plans, and rightly so. Our parks are some of the few free leisure attractions left for families feeling the pinch, and the prospect of being charged to park up is causing genuine distress.”
Earlier in the week Councillor Golton tweeted a photo from Rothwell Country Park in his ward, where debris has been dumped in the car park, which has been closed for many years.
However, the venue is among those that have been earmarked for parking charges.
Other Lib Dem councillors have expressed concern about vehicles being left on residential streets near parks, if drivers try to duck the fees.
Councillor Golton added: “I’m not convinced they have any idea what is going on in some of our parks.
“Ironically, this fresh air tax could be viewed as the last gasp of a failing Labour regime exhausted of competent responses to the financial difficulties they face on our behalf.”
In response, a council spokesperson said: “We understand how valuable our city’s parks are to the people of Leeds, and that access is an important part of that.
“However, the unprecedented budget pressures faced by the council have meant we have had to look at options we wouldn’t usually consider. No decisions have yet been made and any proposal that comes forward will be subject to consultation.”