Free parking, an indoor market and cutting councillors' pay: Tories unveil shadow budget for Wakefield district

Free city centre parking and a new indoor market for Wakefield are at the heart of a shadow budget by the council's Conservatives.

The Tory opposition have laid out their alternative proposals to the ruling Labour group's plans for the next financial year.

Conservative group leader, Councillor Nadeem Ahmed.

Conservative group leader, Councillor Nadeem Ahmed.

A total of 16 ideas have been put forward, which include axing Wakefield's deputy mayor, slashing councillors' pay by half and accelerating the Hepworth Gallery's move towards financial independence from the council.

The shadow budget makes no comment on the proposed 3.99 per cent hike in council tax, though the Conservative group leader Nadeem Ahmed says he's opposed to part of it.

The Tories' proposal of two hours free parking in the city centre was knocked back by Labour last year, as was another suggestion to create a new indoor market previously.

But Coun Ahmed said: "Our budget is about trying to keep people in Wakefield, keep them shopping here and spending their money here.

Coun Ahmed said the local authority had to consider free parking initiatives, warning that it may as well say "goodbye" to the city centre if it doesn't.

Coun Ahmed said the local authority had to consider free parking initiatives, warning that it may as well say "goodbye" to the city centre if it doesn't.

"I don't see that happening in Labour's version of the budget.

"Two hours' free parking is inevitable. The council does it at Christmas anyway. If they don't do it, they may as well say 'goodbye' to the city centre.

"The new generation of shoppers is going to Leeds and elsewhere. Last night I went to Meadowhall in Sheffield, parked for free and spent my money there. Something has to be done."

On the possibility of an indoor market, he urged the council to follow the lead of towns such as Barnsley and said: "It's about a fresh vision for Wakefield. Let's clean up the city centre.

Regeneration of Wakefield city centre is expected to form part of the budget debate next week.

Regeneration of Wakefield city centre is expected to form part of the budget debate next week.

"I know some people say that markets are out of date and that traders would struggle but it's about creating a buzz around the city centre.

"Look at Harrogate and the German (Christmas) market in Leeds city centre where the traders got some independence and they were allowed to prosper."

Coun Ahmed defended promoting ideas that have been previously dismissed by the ruling party, including cutting cash for trade union reps and exploring the prospect of a swimming pool for the north-west of the district, saying the Conservatives had been "clear and persistent" with their policies.

And he said while he supported raising the adult and social care precept by two per cent, he was "personally" against the additional 1.99 per cent hike in council tax.

He said: "Overall I'm opposed to council tax increases, but I do agree that we've got an ageing population and we need to pay for social care.

"If I had a choice between spending on the Hepworth Gallery and on social care I'd always choose social care.

"But for a Band A property, which is most of the district, I don't think it's a fair additional burden on them, especially if maybe their salary isn't up to the average.

"I think an argument can be made up to two per cent, but anything beyond that, in my view, is unjustified."

Among the Conservatives' other ideas are a £70,000 investment in free bus services to help connect rural areas to the city centre and an extra £205,000 for fixing potholes, on top of the money Labour has already pledged for that.

Striking a convivial tone, Coun Ahmed said he was willing to work with other parties to improve the district.

He said: "These are good ideas. If they (Labour) want to nick our ideas, or some of them, that's fine.

"We need prosperity for Wakefield, but it needs to be done in a different way.

"Ultimately we're all here to serve the people of the district."

Local Democracy Reporting Service