The future of car parking at a popular retail park is very much in the air after a proposal to remove a 33-year-old clause was deferred in dramatic scenes last week.

Members of Hertsmere Borough Council’s planning committee were ready to dash the hopes of Borehamwood Shopping Park’s owners – when the head of planning at the council advised that legal advice should be sought.

Nuveen Real Estate, formerly TH Real Estate, wants to abolish a clause which was agreed back in 1986.

The clause in place states that the "first two hours of car parking are free of charge, with the third hour subject to a nominal rate but free to customers using the shopping park stores. A rate is brought in for four hours or more to deter long-term parking".

Currently, the car park operates on a three hour limit but it’s free. Removing the clause effectively gives the owners license to start charging as soon as you park your car.

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At the planning meeting last Thursday, councillors from both parties were very much against the removal of the clause.

Conservative councillor Anthony Spencer said: “As a former retailer, I would impose no charges. We should be happy the car park is full because it means people are visiting the shops and Borehamwood continues to be a prosperous town.”

Borehamwood councillor Charles Kelly added: “People are less likely to visit if they have to pay and this could have a real impact on retailers” while Cllr Farida Turner said that this is a “benefit to no one but the owner”.

Labour’s Jeremy Newmark said this would be a “significantly detrimental change to Borehamwood” and car parks of a similar nature such as Waterfields in Watford, Brent Cross, and Colneyfields are all free.

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Colneyfields, London Colney

A lack of consultation with retail stores was also widely criticised.

Cllr Michelle Vince spoke as a community advocate and described it as “ludicrous” that 33 years later this clause should be removed and said change had the ability to cause “parking chaos”.

Tim Price, acting as agent for Nuveen Real Estate, argued at the meeting that bringing in parking charges would be “consistent” with other car parks in the town and will help to “reduce congestion” in Borehamwood. He added the application had received no public objections. 184 neighbours were notified by letter.

Councillors were ready to reject the proposal when the head of planning called for a break in the meeting. Councillors refused and Cllr John Graham called for the application to be deferred.

He said: “This should be a free vote. These papers aren't sufficient. Where is the evidence (congestion etc)? If there are issues this should be deferred.”

The matter was deferred on the basis of a “substantial lack of information provided” – Cllr’s Newmark and Spencer voted against the proposal.

Nothing has been confirmed to say parking charges would be introduced from the very moment a vehicle is parked, if the clause were to be withdrawn.

The legals involved are confidential, although a tribunal was mentioned in the meeting.

Neither Hertsmere Borough Council or Savills, acting on behalf of Nuveen, were willing to comment.