A COUNCIL committee has today paved the way for on-street parking charges to come in across three South Lakeland towns.
Ambleside is now closer to getting the machines on Lake Road (north) and Wansfell Road, as is The Glebe in Bowness.
Five streets in Kendal - Allhallows Lane, Stramongate, Maude Street, Gillingate and Dowker's Lane - are all now likely to get the machines.
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It would mean motorists getting free parking for 20 minutes but then having to pay £1.50 an hour in Ambleside and Bowness, and £1.20 in Kendal to park on those streets.
However, before any are installed, Cumbria County Council must first launch a 21-day public consultation solely on whether the streets are right and the meters suggested are in the proper place.
The consultation will not ask people to comment on the general principle of charging to park on the street, and the date for it has not yet been set.
Today's decision was taken by the South Lakeland Local Committee of Cumbria County Council.
The council is controlled by a Labour-Lib Dem coalition while the committee has a Liberal Democrat majority.
However, five members of the 18-member committee were absent for today's crucial vote.
Tory opposition leader Coun James Airey, who called for the plan to be scrapped, told the Gazette after the meeting that his group may now 'call it in'.
A call-in would mean today's decision being frozen, halting any public consultation and the issue going back to the committee for further scrutiny.
Council officials told the Gazette that no date has been arranged for when the meters will go in, nor have the machines been procured yet.
Council officials are reluctant to commit to when the meters might be installed, with one suggesting later this year and another believing it may be early 2015.
Today's vote saw nine councillors vote for the meters coming in and four against.
The only Liberal Democrat to vote against was Ambleside's Coun Heidi Halliday, who defied the party line, having publically campaigned against them in her ward.
Lib Dem councillor Clare Feeney-Johnson told the meeting at County Hall that her party had drastically scaled back the number of streets due to have machines.
Before the major public protests of late, over 25 streets were earmarked which has now been cut back to eight.
Coun Feeney-Johnson told the meeting: "We are not here to make a decision about on-street parking charges - that decision was made at full council on February 28.
"I feel very sad that the wealth of interest that there is out there about this issue now wasn't fed into the original consultation."
She added: "Councillors Jo Stephenson (Lib Dem Windermere) and Coun Heidi Halliday (Lib Dem, Ambleside) have worked very hard in their communities to address their concerns."
However, Tory leader Coun Airey called for the committee to ditch the plan.
Coun Airey said: "The public need to be aware a significant number of members voted against this (back in February at full council), and some members even left the room."
"I call on you to throw out these proposals and not even begin a public consultation. Let's be honest, it's not a public consultation really because it's a fait accompli."
He added: "Kirkby Lonsdale, Millom, Ulverston - be warned, these meters are coming to a street near you."
Tory Coun Bill Wearing, the council's chairman, explained that he had run businesses in Kendal and Grange for over 40 years and on-street parking charges would have a 'devastating' effect.
"People will stop coming to these areas or they will come only for a limited time and you will force them to go elsewhere."
Ulverston Labour Coun Mark Wilson, who voted with the Liberals to introduce the meters, said there had been 'reasoned' and 'muddled arguments' over the meters.
Pointing to the recent public marches against the idea, Coun Wilson said: "If you looked in the paper, there weren't very many people on those marches and they got less every week, so that doesn't count."
Lib Dem Coun Brenda Gray said she feared for those people who used the spaces to park for work or visitors staying in the area.
"I'm absolutely divided on whether to vote on this," she said, calling for the price of the charges to be reduced.
The Lib Dems' Coun Ian Stewart said it was the hardest decision he had had to make in 13 years on the council - more difficult than the decision to change the flow of Kendal's traffic.
"I have to emphasise that this will lead to very limited coverage," said Coun Stewart.
"To read some of the stuff that's come out, you would think every street everywhere was covered and getting them (meters).
"The Glebe is potentially tough because not many locals utilise those spaces so it will be tourists. SLDC and the National Park charge for parking and even Nigel (Wilkinson, MD of Windermere Lake Cruises) has a strip of land that he charges for parking on.
"All we're asking is for a small amount, a contribution - probably the cost of an ice cream's worth. I believe it's the right thing to do and in the long term, we'll be proved right."
Lib Dem Coun Nick Cotton pointed out that people could spend more money on fuel trying to find a free parking place than they would on meeting the cost of paying for a place.
Tory Jim Bland said the council would look like 'fools' if they took out the meters in two to three years following a change of political administration.
Lib Dem Stan Collins said: "I don't think anyone here today wants to do this but the fact is we are facing budgets which are getting tighter and tighter. We'll be in real trouble if we don't."
Two members of the public spoke against the meter scheme - Ambleside solicitor Nick Davenport and Kendal businessman Alan Jewitt.