Scrutiny of Management of Parking
To consider report LD.385 from the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee relating to Parking Management and make recommendations to the Cabinet.
The chairman invited Cllr Burford, Chairman of the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee to present the inquiry report from the committee regarding parking management.
Cllr Burford began by thanking the committee for its work in producing the report. There had been a lot of evidence gathered and considered in a relatively short time. All interested parties had contributed after the inquiry had been widely publicised. Both the evidence from town and parish councils and business organisations taken at the all-day session and individual written evidence were available in the annexes to the report, which was on the council's website. A hard copy was in the members' room.
The committee had made findings based on all the evidence, followed by recommendations based on those findings. The committee had not made a recommendation regarding whether the council should or should not charge for parking, since that was for the cabinet to decide, based on the scrutiny inquiry evidence and the debate at Full Council.
During the inquiry it had been clear that there were two diametrically opposed views on the issue of charging.
He believed that the way to proceed was for him to move that the report be received without the need for a seconder and he invited the Solicitor to explain.
The Solicitor suggested that the Full Council take the item in two parts; firstly to agree to receive the report and then to have a full debate when motions may be proposed and considered.
On a show of hands members resolved to receive the report as at the agenda.
Cllr O'Neill confirmed that there had been opposing views during the consideration of the issue. He proposed and Cllr Pugh seconded the following motion:
That, following the intensive scrutiny review of potential charging for off-street parking and assessing all of the evidence gathered, the cabinet, in light of the current economic downturn and the impact this is having on our town centres, delays making a decision until full public consultation, including all town and parish councils, has been carried out and the economic situation has improved.
Speaking to his motion Cllr O'Neill said that any responsible authority would have conducted proper consultation, but that he could see no plan in place. To date neither town and parish councils nor the council's own regeneration team had been adequately consulted. He referred to the recent publication of a report by Mary Portas, who had been appointed by the government to lead an independent review into the future of the high street. He cited recommendation nine, which stated ' Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table'
He said that the cabinet had announced a four-year council tax freeze, yet had introduced charges or increases for services such as pest control and garden waste collection. If council tax was used to cover the cost of maintaining car parks it would lead to an increase for a band D household of £12, equivalent to 25 pence per week, which was cheaper than the proposed 40 pence to park for one hour. He believed he knew how residents would vote if this were put to them, given that the economic climate was currently worse than in 2008, when the proposal had been deferred.
Cllr Pugh added that to rely on consultation conducted in 2007/8 showed a lack of a proper plan. He believed that revenue considerations had overshadowed all others. If he and others had not called in the cabinet decision in September 2011, there would have been no recent evidence gathered at all. It was remiss to rely on scrutiny to do the consultation, since the council had the ability to undertake a full exercise and not just rely on the statutory process.
Cllr McMahon supported the motion, commenting that the inquiry report had been only narrowly accepted by eight votes to seven at the meeting of the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 5 December. He said that full information from the town and parish councils and from the council's regeneration team was pivotal. He had no doubt that the scrutiny report and the views of 7000 residents in the form of a petition would be ignored and not affect the cabinet's decision. He believed that a four-year freeze on council tax would have a detrimental effect. He appealed to the independent members to support the motion to show that the majority of elected members did not wish the proposals to proceed.
Cllr Connell offered as information the fact that the Portas review recommended 'affordable' parking and it had also concluded that retail workers were taking free spaces before shoppers arrived.
Cllr Molyneux stated that the council had proposed to introduce parking charges as a result of an unprecedented squeeze on local authority funding. The public sector was bearing the brunt of measures resulting from the previous Labour government's actions. The council had needed to save over £4 million and had been determined to protect front line services. The council did not wish to increase council tax, but to give people choice, so that rather than everyone paying for car parks, only those who used them would contribute. He accepted the Portas review and its 28 recommendations wholeheartedly and emphasised that the recommendation picked on referred to controlled free parking. She did not see free all-day parking as a solution and was suggesting managed car parks. This council could not manage its car parks without a modest charge. No member had come up with a sensible alternative. To increase council tax by nine or ten per cent would lead to a referendum. The motion before members had already been put to the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee and had been voted against there, where members had been in the best position to make a judgement. He could not support the motion.
Cllr Gardiner commented that to charge for parking would be detrimental and costly to set up and there were doubts over income generation. He had made the case for free spaces at hospitals and surgeries. The whole issue had been around for years and he believed it negative that the Northern Quarter plan contained no rural parking. The council needed to find ways of freeing up areas such as Cinderford and there was a good case for further consultation. It was difficult, but on balance he was in favour of the motion.
Cllr Quaile believed the Portas review had been useful. He commented that shop rents had not reduced to reflect the ongoing economic downturn and many retailers had not been able to afford to renew leases. Times were changing with the growth of out-of-town shopping centres and particularly on-line shopping. The base issue for consideration remained the maintenance of the car parks. Consultation had taken place during the six major meetings over the previous months. The council could not wait to resolve some of the key issues in austere times. It would be difficult but the council would work together to take decisions step by step.
Cllr Whitburn did not agree that consultation had been sufficient. He did not believe that the income from Mitcheldean car park would be as predicted. Traders were struggling and the council was proposing to penalise them. The district's only advantage over others was its towns' free parking, which it would lose.
Cllr Diana Edwards noted that it was interesting that Mary Portas worked for the company that owned one of the biggest out-of-town shopping centres in Europe.
Cllr Bevan hoped that when tweaked, the proposal would benefit the short-term parkers in Lydney. The district needed better quality car parks and he was sure that people would be willing to pay for that. He was unsure as to whether Cllr O'Neill wanted a consultation or a referendum. He also asked members to think about the parking implications of two upcoming planning applications by large supermarkets for Cinderford.
Cllr Lawton said that consultation had taken place, albeit not formal. The motion represented a delaying tactic. At a recent meeting in Newent regarding crime and disorder attended by 70 people, parking had been considered a problem because there was nowhere to park legally. Newent needed a steady turnover of spaces; otherwise visitors would keep on driving and go to Gloucester, depriving retailers of trade. Parking regulations needed enforcement and the arrangements needed to change. He did not want to pay for parking, but charges would not deter him and he would reluctantly accept payment as necessary.
Cllr Smart commented that this subject had been extensively scrutinised, adding that it had been an excellent example of good scrutiny. The matter had led to debate within the council and more widely in the district. There had been 23 hours of meeting time devoted to the issue, the scrutiny report was well balanced and its recommendations were thoughtful and sensible. She fully supported the report and its recommendations.
Summing up Cllr O'Neill commented that to blame the previous Labour government for the current economic situation was to forget the actions of Lehman Brothers and other banks. He was clear that the cabinet was not going to change its mind. However he paid his council tax so that others' streets could be lit and children be educated. It was the nature of taxation in this country. The only choice was to elect or deselect representatives. He repeated the additional cost of £10 to £12 per year to a band D household if the cost were put on council tax and urged members to support the motion.
When put to the vote the motion was unsuccessful. The voting was as follows.
For (19) - Julia Gooch, Ian Whitburn, Dave East, Maria Edey, Clive Elsmore, Andrew Gardiner, Paul Hiett, Graham Morgan, Max Coborn, Frank Baynham, Bill Osborne, Paul McMahon, David Thomson, Bernie O’Neill, Don Pugh, Val Hobman, Lynn Sterry, Di Martin, Jackie Fraser,
Against (22) - Norman Stephens, Roger Yeates, Jim Connell, Gethyn Davies, Brian Jones, Brian Edwards, James Bevan, Judy Davis, Frankie Evans, Carole Allaway Martin, Marrilyn Smart, Len Lawton, Peter Ede, Marion Winship, Arthur Thomas, Terry Glastonbury, Terry Hale, Diana Edwards, Martin Quaile, Patrick Molyneux, Brian Robinson, Jane Horne
Abstained (1) - Philip Burford