MOTORISTS who use a town centre's last free car park for long stay parking are set to face fines as part of a local authority's effort to improve access to sporting facilities.

Hambleton District Council's cabinet will next Tuesday consider introducing a three-hour limit on parking at the 60-space car park beside Thirsk Leisure Centre on Chapel Street and the extensive Flatts recreation area.

The move comes as £3.8m of works to overhaul the 30-year-old leisure centre continues, after council bosses said it had become "apparent that significant repairs are needed" alongside improvements to attract more users, such as the creation of a 300sqm gym and new fitness studios.

It also follows years of people voicing frustrations over arriving at the leisure centre or the Flatts shortly before lessons or matches are due to start to find the car park full or a queue to park.

Many locals believe the car park is used by residents of nearby properties which have limited or no parking spaces and by others travelling out of the area for the day.

With up to three hours free parking, the changes are unlikely to deter people who park there to shop at the nearby market square, where the council charges £1.20 for up to an hour and £4.80 to park for longer than three hours.

An officers' report to a meeting of the cabinet states: "The principal purpose of the car park at the Thirsk and Sowerby Leisure Centre is to provide parking for users of the leisure centre and Flatts.

"The lack of legal parking regulations and hence the limited deterrent to inappropriate use can be an invitation to some motorists whose purpose is not to visit the leisure centre or the Flatts."

The report states the council has exhausted numerous "voluntary measures to control parking", including improved signs and having an officer at the car park, but without legislation to back them up are reliant on voluntary compliance by motorists.

The report proposes parking at the site should continue to be free to ensure no cost to leisure centre customers and visitors to the Flatts.

It states: "The council’s very strong preference is that car park users comply with parking regulations so that enforcement notices do not have to be issued.

"Historic experience indicates that a modest number of penalty charge notices will be issued as a last resort, this income combined with a contribution from the leisure centre base budget will mean a neutral revenue effect."

Thirsk councillor Gareth Dadd welcomed the proposed change.

He said it would prevent people blocking up car parking spaces at a much-needed site.

He added while the move would mean some low-paid shop workers could no longer park for free in the town centre, parking places would still be available within a short distance.

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