The most expensive council-run car parks in Kent are revealed

Parking pay machine
Where are the most expensive car parks in Kent? -Credit:Copyright Unknown

The most expensive council-run car parks in Kent have been revealed. Kent’s 12 lower-tier councils have introduced changes to how much they charge since the beginning of the new financial year, which began in April.

Parking charges bring in vital and considerable sums of cash for local authorities. And with the real terms spending power of councils falling by over a quarter since 2010 according to the Local Government Association, parking charges are one of the few cash cows left available to local councils.

We take a look at how much people are being charged by the council to use their car parks in different parts of Kent. And which is the priciest.

READ MORE: The Kent seaside village perfect for a day out with stunning sandy beach and a park children will 'love'

READ MORE: The lesser-known Kent gardens dubbed a 'magical oasis' that are perfect for a weekend walk

In October, Canterbury City Council confirmed plans to jack up costs across the district. In 2022, it was reported the council takes in about £10m in parking fees every year.

Despite the parking paycheck however, the local authority is set to increase some fees by as much as £2.10 an hour at coastal hotspots in Whitstable – taking some rates from £1.60 to £3.70. The “Band One” car parks – at £3.70 for stays of up to an hour – are the most expensive in Kent.

City council bosses have previously insisted they had “no choice” but to raise the rates. The local authority has the highest debt of any district council in Kent at £150 million.

Council leader Cllr Alan Baldock (Lab) told a meeting earlier this year: “We collect about £11 million or £12 million from car parking [annually], and it costs us about the same amount of money to service the debt that we have or thereabouts.” The local authority is targeting seafront hotspots as well as the city centre, with rates in parts of Whitstable now falling under the ‘Band One’ ranking and rocketing from £1.60 to £3.70.

Opposition leader Cllr Rachel Carnac (Con) described the move as “cashing in on people enjoying our coastline”. The council’s transport cabinet member Cllr Alex Ricketts (Lib Dem) said: “The most expensive car parks are in high congestion areas and we hope the banding will encourage residents to choose less frequently used car parks and reduce the traffic to busy areas, at the same time potentially saving money.”

The east Kent coastline is attracting more and more visitors – and day-trippers in some areas are facing a premium to park. Ramsgate hosts the county’s second most expensive car parks.

Previously, the lots at Pier Yard and Military Road – both located at the town’s royal harbour – were £3.30 for up to an hour from April to September, and £1.60 the rest of the year. However, to raise an additional £118,000 over the 2024/25 financial year, Thanet District Council’s (TDC) cabinet voted to hike the charges to £3.60 April-September, and £1.80 during the other months.

A TDC spokesperson said: “Increases for some fees and charges were set to 5%, including most car parking at sites within the district. The increase in charges for other services, including those provided at the port and harbour, remained at 8%.”

Folkestone seafront is another magnet for tourists. The car park at Lower Sandgate Road West, which runs from Radnor Cliff to the town’s popular Lower Leas coastal play area, now costs £3.60 an hour from April to the end of September, up 30p.

A council spokesperson says this is due to it becoming “extremely busy” during the summer months and causing major traffic build-up along the route. They added: “The seasonal increase helps manage demand and actively encourages motorists to use other nearby car parks, all of which are a lot cheaper. This measure is just one of the ways we’re dealing with the congestion issues on behalf of residents.

“Maintaining the much-loved Lower Leas Coastal Park to the very high standards that residents and visitors have come to expect is costly – the Lower Sandgate Road West car park charges enables such work to be completed.” The ‘common sense council’ with Kent’s cheapest car parks

At the other end of the scale is Dartford. The borough hosts the county’s cheapest car parks, with a flat fee of £1 for any stay of up to two hours.

While visitors to Canterbury are being deterred by the rocketing rates, here council bosses say they want to keep charges low to draw more people in. A Dartford Borough Council spokesman said: “We’re a common sense council that manages finances well, which means we don’t see parking as an easy target for revenue.

“Instead, we set charges to help local businesses and encourage more shoppers. We know that most councils charge a lot more but we have decided that charging just £1 for up to two hours of parking is the right thing to do.

“We do review our fees and charges from time to time, but we have no intention of increasing parking fees in the immediate future.” No changes were made to short stay charges in Dartford this year, but any stay over four hours will now cost £5.50, up from £5, and season tickets will be £69 a month, up from £60.

Other councils are keeping rates fairly low. In Ashford, most parking fees have gone up by 10p to £1.30 an hour. Meanwhile, Maidstone Borough Council is keeping charges unchanged for 2024/25 – with the steepest rates at £1.35 for an hour.

Some of Kent’s local authorities have attempted to put up the cost of parking – but have u-turned amid fierce backlash. Swale Borough Council wanted to introduce fees at three car parks on Sheppey which are currently free – Little Oyster, Queenborough Library and Park Road.

But these plans were rejected at a meeting on March 6, to cheers and applause from the public gallery. However, increases elsewhere on Sheppey, and in Faversham and Sittingbourne, were passed. From April, an hour’s stay at the borough’s bays between 7am and 10pm costs £1.40, up from £1.30.

On April 2, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council (TMBC) voted to introduce charges of £1.20 for an hour at car parks in Aylesford and Larkfield, “bringing them into line with the rest of the borough”. However, after 1,300 residents expressed their opposition, the authority altered its plans on April 30 at a cabinet meeting, voting instead to add one hour of free parking at the Bailey Bridge car parks in Aylesford and Martin Square in West Malling.

However, the charges in Aylesford will only come in once Bailey Bridge East car park has been expanded by 15-30 spaces. They also voted to introduce one hour of free on-street parking all across West Malling. Several car parks across Tonbridge, such as Lower Castle Field, Angel East and Angel West, charge £1.40 for one hour.

In January, Dover District Council (DDC), backtracked on plans to begin charging £1.80 an hour at four free car parks in St Margaret’s Bay following a similar backlash. Plans to start charging at two other free car parks – Borrow Pit near Walmer Castle and Victoria Park in Deal – were also scrapped.

Across the Dover district, the cost at nine car parks has been raised by 20p – with the cheapest now £1.50 and the others £1.80. Across the Tunbridge Wells area, the borough council is keeping most parking fees the same, but is introducing discounted season tickets at the Royal Victoria Place car park since it acquired the shopping centre.

At Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s (TWBC) most expensive car parks – such as those at Town Hall Yard and Crescent Road – prices remain £2 for a stay of one hour. Across all of the council-owned car parks in Medway, the most expensive are £1.80 for an hour, a 50% increase from £1.20.

Traders claim footfall at Rainham Shopping Centre has plummeted since the increase in fees. Medway Council’s portfolio holder for economic and social regeneration and inward investment, Cllr Lauren Edwards (Lab), told KentOnline: “difficult decisions” had to be made when the authority set its budget earlier this year, including increasing the parking charges.

She added: “We are committed to supporting small businesses across Medway and recently awarded £12,500 in shared prosperity funding to Rainham’s Town Centre Forum to improve the shopping precinct and held a spring event during the school holidays which was hugely successful and brought more people to the town centre.”