THE chair of a social organisation for largely retired people has added her voice to criticism of the increased charges at Woking Park car park, imploring the council “to think again”. 

Barbara Nicholson was speaking on behalf of the Woking Area u3a, an abbreviation of University of the Third Age, which has almost 1,300 members.

“Part of our focus is to get older people out of their homes to be more active and to socialise,” Barbara said in an email to Woking Borough Council. “We organise activity groups for members ranging from bowls to exercise, to line dancing, to yoga, and a number of these use the facilities at the leisure centre to host the group.

“A recent new group is pickleball [which combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis] and we have booked five courts to use on a Monday morning. 

“I was very disappointed to hear about your proposed increase in car parking charges at the leisure centre.

“A significant number of our members have limited means and having to pay an additional £1.80 for car parking for the third hour of their stay may lead them to attend fewer sessions of their activity or even stop altogether. 

“At the very least they are likely to focus on the time and rush off after the session rather than socialise, maybe with a cup of tea or coffee in your cafe.

“I therefore implore you to think again and consider how you could continue to offer three hours free parking for people who use the leisure centre, the bowls club or the Guide and Sea Rangers building.”

Barbara received a response from Ian Reynolds, the parking manager at the council, which noted: “The council operates 18 car parks across the borough’s town and village centres to meet a number of economic and community needs, and currently only eight of these charge for parking.

“For some council car parks, such as Woking Park, the income from the car park tariffs has been insufficient to meet the operational costs of providing the car park.

Families who come down to the play areas could be put off as well.”

Barbara Nicholson

“The tariffs for Woking Park have been revised so that those using the car park contribute a greater share towards its operational running costs. We appreciate that in some cases this may change behaviours, such as the time spent at the site or encouraging more people to travel on foot, by cycle or public transport.

‘'However, the income generated by these proposals will help the council to keep pace with the inflationary costs of running the car parks and support their long-term viability.”

Expanding on her theme, Barbara added: ‘Apart from the cost, the payment system is just so unfriendly. You can pay on an app, but if you’re anxious about that, and many older people will be, you have to pay cash.

“Then, though, it has to be the right money because the machine doesn’t give change.  You also have to decide how long you want you want before you start, so you’re locked in to a time straightaway.

“My fear is that  between the added cost and the complexity of the system, people just won’t go to the leisure centre at all. And for many people that will close a window on meeting friends and just being part of the wider world.

“It’s not just us, though, I don’t want to paint it as only older people who may suffer. Families who come down to the play areas could be put off as well.”