The Tees Valley Mayor has called on a North East council to reconsider its plans to introduce car parking charges to a popular Teesside park.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has urged Stockton Borough Council (SBC) to rethink their decision to introduce the charges at Preston Park in Eaglescliffe, Stockton this week.

He said the action would be "damaging" to the community, especially during times when many are "feeling the squeeze" of rising living costs.

He was joined by Matt Vickers, MP for Stockton South, in condemning the idea and he criticised the proposal as "short sighted."

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Speaking on the decision, he said: "The decision by Labour’s Stockton Borough Council to introduce car parking charges at Preston Park beggars’ belief.

“Preston Park is one of the jewels in Teesside’s crown providing beautiful scenery for people from across our area to enjoy.

“Whether people are walking their dogs, at the play park with their children, or playing a bit of footy, in no world should we be adding a cost to this. Particularly, at a time when hard working families are feeling the squeeze.

“Our parks need to be protected from Stockton’s Labour Party who seem hell bent on ruining them. Many people will remember a time they tried to build a school on this park, now they are trying to charge people to use it.

“This idea is short sighted and should be reversed immediately.”

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Preston Park in Eaglescliffe is owned and maintained by SBC and has never previously had any car parking charges.

The plan was reportedly put under consideration because of rising costs and demand, and SBC have said no charges are proposed until 2025.

It is not included in the 2023-24 budget, but SBC looking at ways to save money in future budgets and this reportedly includes the parking charge proposals, which may be employed in future.

According to reports, the council faces a £7.1 million gap in its budget in the next financial year, rising to £10m in 2025/26.

Meanwhile, Mr Vickers said he was appalled by the idea which he believes will discourage people from using one of the area's "best publicly accessible green spaces."

He also warned it will have unforeseen consequences on the community, and said residents will experience even worse traffic as a result.

He said: "Preston Park is a popular area with locals, who use the grounds to exercise, walk their dogs and enjoy time with their families. Access to the facilities which allow them to participate in these activities should be free - now more than ever.

“Not only will it discourage people from using one of the best publicly accessible green spaces in Stockton, but it will also create new issues for the local residents.

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“Those who still wish to use Preston Park, but avoid the costs of parking, will migrate onto the surrounding roads.

"Residents living in these areas surrounding the park are already heavily burdened by traffic and struggle to find their own spaces when there are events.

“People have seen terrible examples of financial waste from Stockton Council in recent years, at the moment they’re employing two managing directors, and now they’re trying to recoup the costs from the pockets of local families.”

Councillor Bob Cook, Leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, said: “Rising energy costs, high levels of inflation and demand for services are just some of the many challenges we are facing which has stretched the Council’s budget – and this is why we are exploring the possibility of introducing parking charges at Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

“It’s also important to stress that these are just proposals at the moment and we would not be looking to introduce any charge until 2025.

“But, given that the car park is often over-flowing at peak times, we would also encourage residents who can to use different methods of transport such as walking, cycling or using public transport to get to the park, which fits in with our ten-year strategy for carbon reduction.

“And if we were to introduce any charges, they would be at a reasonable, affordable rate with an option of discounts for regular visitors.”