Horsham District Council (HDC) has revealed it makes £1.4million annual net revenue from off-street car parks in the town centre.
The local authority insists all profits are invested straight back into council services.
On numerous occasions this newspaper has reported HDC councillors publicising the town’s parking charges as favourable compared to similar areas and nearby shopping destinations.
The cost of parking varies dramatically across Horsham, Crawley, Haywards Heath, Worthing, Chichester and Brighton.
An example of some of the most stark differences can be seen when comparing Horsham’s town centre Swan Walk multi-storey to that of similar long-stay car parks in Chichester and Brighton.
Swan Walk customers planning to park their vehicle for more than eight hours will pay £12.
This is nearly double that of Chichester, where for the same time period it will cost drivers £4.60 to park in the Cattle Market.
But those wanting a day out in Brighton could find themselves forking out £25.10 for staying in a city centre National Car Park (NCP) for longer than four hours.
Despite an increase in charges hitting car parks across Chichester announced in October last year, cabinet members at the district council still hail the prices as some of the lowest in the South coast area.
The County Times found that parking in Chichester is cheaper than at popular car parks in the locations listed above.
And earlier this year its Avenue de Chartres car park was chosen as the tenth best car park in the world by the Guardian newspaper.
The list included a converted theatre in Detroit, the ‘Sinking Ship’ in Seattle and the ‘Mountain’ in Copenhagen.
So what is the council’s secret?
Myles Cullen, deputy leader at Chichester District Council said it is not a case of one size fits all when local authorities look at setting parking rates.
He explained: “We don’t look at it as something we can milk, it’s just a matter of getting the balance right.
“At the end of the day you’re looking at what is reasonable and what is going to support businesses best and adjust if necessary.”
Mr Cullen said if councils were inclined a decision could be made to sell their car parks to a company like NCP and make capital gains.
“There’s an awful lot of talk about ripping off people but look at the NCP,” he continued.
“It could be sold to commercial operators and that would be capital.”
Mr Cullen explained it is not the council’s agenda to look at parking charges in neighbouring districts and undercut them to remain competitive.
When probed on what he makes of charges in Horsham compared to Chichester, he said: “It is there as a business within the council, there’s no doubt about that.
“We’ve got a business to run. And it is big business.
“But it is not one size that fits all.
“They’ve got to look at their estate, look at their investment and I’m sure they make a balanced judgement.”
Mr Cullen added: “That is [HDC’s] judgement and we trust their judgement.”
Chichester District Council made a profit of £2.9million from parking over 2012/13.
Like Horsham, this money is poured back into council services for the community.
A spokesperson said: “We offer some of the lowest parking charges on the South coast and our charges are regularly reviewed to make sure they are competitive.
“The service generated a surplus of £2.9 million in 2012/13. The income is used to operate and maintain our car parks and the balance goes directly back into our services in order to keep council tax low and protect local services.”
Horsham remains competitive by offering free parking on Sundays and the Park and Ride system at Hop Oast.
Councillor Roger Paterson (Pulborough and Coldwaltham), cabinet member for the local economy, has recently spoken to this newspaper about exciting plans for technology enhancements at town centre car parks.
Mr Paterson is conscious of the on-going battle between our high street and internet shopping.
He wants to enhance visitor experience by improving our car parks and the way we pay.
The cabinet member has spoken in the past about offering discounted parking to residents of Horsham after new technology reveals just how many visitors are using our car parks compared to locals.
He said: “It is all about bringing in income in order to balance the books and Horsham District Council not only has very reasonable parking charges but has one of the lowest levels of council tax in the country.”
For his full opinion read this week’s guest column (right).
A HDC spokesperson said: “The council does not make any profit from parking enforcement on the streets of the Horsham district. The council owns and operates the majority of the off-street car parks in Horsham town centre, where parking charges are favourable compared to other similar areas. This provides a net revenue of around £1.4million per year, which is invested back into council services. The law prohibits councils from making a profit from on-street parking and residents’ parking zones, but this does not apply to off-street car parks as these are assets that the council owns and maintains.”