IN total there are 16 car parks in the Forest which are owned and run by the Forest of Dean District Council. Seven of them are free.

Car parks are like a lot of things, you get what you pay for. Our car parks are maintained as well as possible given the limited amount of money we can afford to put into maintenance. Which means in some Forest car parks the vandalised toilets are closed, the ticket machines are broken, the signs are damaged and they’re overgrown with weeds.

And they’re running at a loss. The cost to maintain them all is more than we receive from parking charges.

I think it’s vital for the Forest, not just that we provide car parks, but that they’re clean, tidy, properly equipped and well-maintained. A smart car park says a lot about the pride local people take in a place.

So what if we had the money to clean up our car parks? What if we could keep the toilets open and free from vandalism?

What if we could afford to install car park noticeboards with maps highlighting local attractions and advertising local shops? What if there were bike racks, e-bike and electric car charging points?

In other words, what if we were able to invest in our car parks so they’re no longer loss-making eyesores, but serve to enhance our town centres and draw people in? What if we transformed them into places which enhance our town centres and act as magnets to them?

We could do this and more. If we get our parking charges right.

The parking charges system I want to see introduced, is one which means tourists and visitors would pay a new tariff of £2 for the first two hours.

That’s about the same rate as they would expect to pay in neighbouring towns or Forestry England car parks.

Local people however, would be able to rely on getting a free space if they’re just making a short visit.

And if they regularly need to make longer visits they would be able to buy from a range of longer term permits, which, at best, would mean they could park at any FoDDC car park, all day, for just 50p. Not bad.

The consultation on the draft budget (which includes proposals to increase parking charges) is ending in a few days. Thank you for the great ideas which have been sent in so far. Keep them coming. They’ll help us draw up the details a scheme that works for the Forest. One that produces an income we can use to transform our car parks, without overburdening local people.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this and the draft budget as a whole. The consultation continues until the 19th of January. Please take a look at the budget page on our website and give your opinion.