Hospital chiefs have rejected calls from borough politicians to lower the contentiously high parking charges at Watford General Hospital.
A hospital boss told councillors last night that there will be no change to charges until at least 2015.
Eric Fehily, associate director of infrastructure at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said the trust was locked into a contract with the company managing it car parks and could not alter its fees until it ends.
The hospital trust has been under increasing pressure from residents and politicians to lower its high parking fees. Currently the cheapest parking ticket at the Vicarage Road hospital is £4 for three hours, which drivers have to buy no matter how short their visit.
After that motorists have to pay £6 for five hours or £12 to park all day.
In February, the Watford Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny committee investigated the matter and recommended health bosses introduce a new charge of £2.50 for shorter stays.
The proposal was backed by the town’s elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, as well the leaders of the council’s three opposition parties.
At the time the trust’s then chief executive, Jan Filochowski, said he would consider the £2.50 recommendation. However no changes have been made.
Last night, Mr Fehily returned to the overview and scrutiny committee to answer questions from councillors over the hospital’s parking set up.
Mr Fehily told the committee the trust had not introduced a cheaper fee as it had “significant difficulty” with the council’s recommendation in that the parking contract does not allow changes for a year and a half.
Mr Fehily added it would be expensive for the trust to break its contract with its contractor, CP Plus, before it finished.
Karen Collett, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Woodside, asked Mr Fehily if the trust would consider bringing in smaller parking charges for shorter stays after its current contract expired.
He replied that the trust was drawing up a business plan for parking after the current contract and would then tender its parking services to private companies.
Mr Fehily added: “We will be looking to the market as the expert to give us the solution.”
Councillor Rabi Martins, Lib Dem representative for central Watford, said he was disappointed the £2.50 recommendation has been “kicked into touch” and asked if it was in the trust’s business plan.
Mr Fehily replied he did not have the exact figures for the business to hand.
Councillors on the committee also asked about the current parking problems at the hospital.
Labour councillor, Asif Khan, of Leggatts ward, said when he recently visited Watford General it had taken him 40 minutes to find a parking space.
Mr Fehily said some parking spaces had been taken out of action at the hospital due to building work.
However he said trust was working on plans for a new multi-storey car park, which would ease the situation.
In the meantime Mr Fehily said the hospital was taking a soft approach when it came to penalising those who ran over on their parking ticket. He said: “It is not our style to penalise patients and relatives, as they are not going shopping.”