Forest councillors have backed a 2.99 per cent tax rise for local households.

The Forest Council has approved its budget for the forthcoming financial year.

This means band D properties will have to pay £205.80 a year for district council services from April – this is up £5.97 on the current year.

The average total council tax bill for such properties will be around £2,220.

The biggest area of contention was on car parking charges

Parking in council-run car parks will be free for the first hour. with fees increasing from 50p to £1 for two hours, from £1 to £2 for up to three hours and from £1.50 to £3 for four hours.

Stays of more than four hours will increase in cost from £2 to £4.

The council is facing a funding gap of £2.8m by 2028 and have a plan to reduce this gap by making savings and increasing fees and charges.

Finance cabinet member Andy Moore (G, Newnham) told the meeting on February 22 that the cabinet listened to people and proposed up to one hour free parking along with increases for over two hours.

He said they are also looking into the possibility of parking tickets being valid in all car parks.

“The car parks should more than break even and please be reassured any surplus would be reinvested into car park improvements,” he said.

“Forestry England, Herefordshire, Monmoutshire, Cotswolds and Stroud all charge comparable or greater fees for parking than we are currently setting for the Forest.”

He said the final settlement from the Government means they will receive an extra £9,660 which will be put into the budget deficit reserve.

The Progressive Independents proposed that parking charges should remain as they are and conduct a review over 12 months.

Cllr Bernie O’Neill (Progressive Independents, Ruspidge), who put forward the amendment, said: “We need to examine whether such a move to allow free parking for two hours does boost our town centres and local economies.”

However, this was rejected along with amendments by the Liberal Democrats and Independents.

Conservative group leader Harry Ives (C, Lydney North) said residents in Lydney do not want any increase to parking charges and he could not support the budget.

“There’s no shame or stigma whatsoever in a councillor refusing to support something because their residents object to it,” he said.

“That’s the whole point of us being in this chamber. They do not want any increases to car parking charges at all.”

He said if Newerne Street car park is seen as a financial liability by the district council they should talk to Lydney Town Council about the prospect of them taking over the site.

Cllr Ives asked: “What more could the public have done for the Cabinet to say we are completely wrong on this?”

Cllr Moore replied: “What could residents have done? They could have looked into the detail of it perhaps and realised we were going to have to do that.

The Labour group backed the budget proposals and Cllr Shaun Stammers (L, Mitcheldean and Ruardean) said investment is needed in car parks and their associated toilets.

“This budget does allow for the beginning of some ring fencing in order to protect and support that development,” he said.

Independent group leader Philip Burford (I, Hartpury and Redmarley) said the problem with the budget is that it will leave the authority at risk in years to come.

“It’s balanced for this year, absolutely right.,” he said.

“The question is how is it going to be made to balance next year, and the year after and the year after that. What we need is a really good strategy for the future.

“What we don’t want to be accused of is fiddling while Rome burns. This is a very real risk at the moment that in five years’ time we will have to sell assets.”

Cllr Moore said the parking charge increases were not put forward because the Green Party is anti-car.

“We did it because we are pro-district council solvency.

“It’s a responsible budget,” he said and called on the council to support it.

The council approved the budget by 24 in favour, ten against and four abstentions.

n Gloucestershire County Council has also agreed a 2.99 per cent Council Tax increase and two per cent for adult social care.

It will put an extra £6.34 a month on bills for an average Band D house.