Call-in of Cabinet decision regarding parking management
A request was received on 9 September to call in the decision of the Cabinet made at its 9 October 2008 meeting to approve the parking management recommendations in report F.124.
The call-in notice detailing signatories and reasons, relevant draft cabinet minute with resolution and report F.124 are attached.
Evidence from councillors who called in the decision
Cllr McMahon believed the cabinet decision to be speculative, unworkable, unwanted and poorly conceived. It had only surveyed Coleford car parks and had not considered the effects of the economic downturn and had not been fully worked up. The charging regime seemed to him to be another form of taxation. There were costing discrepancies and owners such as supermarkets had not been consulted. He asked how the free car parks had been chosen.
He asked for the evidence base to support the issue of two fines per day per enforcement officer. He pointed to the mileage costs for enforcement at over 41,000 per year. There had been no mention of non-payment of fines, the cost of the pay-and-display machines and signage. He asked for clarification on back office annual increases.
He mentioned that a local petition had received around 5000 signatures and that an on-line poll had over 95 per cent against charging. He also asked for accurate charges for RTA consultancy, since there had been a discrepancy in figures given. He recommended that the Cabinet took the time to re-think and put forward a proposal that was workable and well thought through.
Cllr Bill Evans reminded the committee that the Cabinet had decided to put the issue on hold, when it had first arisen in 2008, because of the economic downturn. He saw no difference in 2011 and stated that if it had not been the right decision in 2008 then it was not the right decision in 2011. He quoted Article 13 of the council's constitution regarding decisions needing to be fair, justifiable, reasonable and not perverse.
Cllr Hiett believed that the Cabinet decision did not follow the corporate priority to promote a thriving economy and tourism, but was simply a means to save £350,000. All the figures in the RTA report were geared around that, not to make parking better for the community, jobs, shops and tourism. People from outlying villages had no choice but to travel to the towns to shop. He claimed that the only growth industry in the towns was charity shops.
He believed the Cabinet decision to be a great mistake and warned against underestimating the people of the district.
He added that even the Secretary of State for DCLG had said that car park charging was not good for local economies and that Newport had reduced its charge to 10p per hour to address the current situation.
In report F.124 Cllr Robinson, Cabinet Member for an Efficient Council and Planning Policy had stated one reason as freeing up car park spaces. Cllr Hiett maintained that there was no problem apart from Newent and Cinderford. He also questioned figures based on a survey that was five years old.
The decision had been fundamentally flawed, outside the stated corporate priority and the committee should have undertaken a thorough scrutiny of the issue when first raised to make recommendations for a sensible proposal. The lesson should be learned to scrutinise key issues before Cabinet decisions.
Evidence from the decision makers: Cllr Patrick Molyneux, Leader of the Council, and Cllr Robinson, Cabinet Member for an Efficient Council and Planning Policy.
Cllr Molyneux thanked councillors for their interesting comments and questions. However he believed that none had been a good argument as to why the decision had been against corporate priority 3. He argued that crucially the corporate priorities could not be taken in isolation, since they all affected each other, and decisions needed to be taken with a balanced view across all four priorities. The council's first priority was to make best use of resources.
Cllrs Hiett, O'Neill and Evans raised points of order, stating that they had been specifically told to address the reason stated on the call-in and steer clear of general budgetary matters, yet Cllr Molyneux was referring to other corporate priorities.
The Solicitor replied that Cllr Molyneux was justifying the Cabinet decision, which had taken into consideration other priorities.
Cllr Molyneux continued by emphasising that while all of the corporate priorities were taken in to account, budget was the crucial part of any decision regarding the use of resources. The Cabinet was considering how best to deliver a service to the community with a limited budget. All households currently paid for car parking through their council tax. In 2008 the Cabinet decided to put proposals on hold, hoping for an economic recovery. Reduced central government funding has put pressure on the council for the next few years. If the council charged the people who actually used the car parks, it could use the money saved to work with businesses to promote a thriving economy and tourism.
Cllr Osborne maintained that using money from car park charging for other purposes was unlawful.
The Solicitor was aware of possible legal challenges, but did not believe that his assertion was correct in law.
Continuing to give evidence as the accountable member for report F.124, Cllr Robinson reminded the committee that this piece of work was in the medium term financial plan, as part of plans to save £1.8 million over the next two years. He also emphasised that report F.124 did not reflect all recommendations in the RTA report. The council would receive £200,000 net at a parking rate of 40 pence per hour. People's behaviour would be similar to other communities and RTA had experience of other councils to form a sound basis for its findings.
He invited members to put technical questions to the consultant who had produced the RTA report.
Evidence from the consultant John Day, RTA Associates Ltd.
Cllr Smart asked for evidence that the RTA report had the right financial model in recommending charging between 8am and 6pm Monday to Saturday, bearing in mind that report F.124 recommends that there be no increase in the 40 pence per hour charge for the remainder of this council's term.
John Day replied that the financial model had been used in a number of authorities, where the charging period was standard. RTA had also considered comparable authorities. It was based on two snapshot surveys. He emphasised that the report recommended regular snapshot surveys after implementation. RTA had suggested that 40pence per hour was on the low side and that Herefordshire intended to increase their charges.
Cllr Robinson clarified for Cllr Winship that the overnight permit for residents effectively gave them extra time at £50 and without having to keep feeding money into machines. John Day confirmed that this was standard practice to help residents in town centres without off-street parking.
Answering Cllr Sterry's concern over night shift workers, John Day conceded that it was unfortunately not possible to address those needs. Cllr Robinson added that the council's car parks were not primarily intended for the use of residents, but that permits helped some of those in need. Unfortunately the system could not meet the needs of everyone.
Cllr Coborn asked how the council would manage the request of flat residents for permits that might fill the car parks.
John Day replied that some authorities had restricted the number of permits to between 25 and 30 per cent of available spaces.
Cllr O'Neill asked how other councils had tackled the problem of displacement, mentioning that it could be a big problem in Cinderford.
John Day replied that displacement varied and was not predictable. The management of on-street parking was a matter for the Highway Authority, which would consider action after displacement occurred. Some authorities used resident parking permit schemes and he recognised that it could be a problem that needed detailed investigation if it occurred.
Cllr Robinson added that the council could look at possible sites for additional parking. He also said that there were around 100 parking spaces near car parks charging for a limited time and 50 near those charging for an unlimited time.
Cllr Whitburn asked how fines levels would be achieved with the limited enforcement opportunities and also how Mitcheldean could be compared to a town such as Ledbury.
John Day replied that RTA had compared towns in neighbouring authorities. Enforcement figures were included for budget purposes.
Cllr Robinson added that the proposal was for the same enforcement officers to be used for on-street and off-street enforcement. This would be an efficient way of ensuring that they were in the same areas more often, thus enhancing their operation.
Cllr Winship asked what information the RTA had used to determine the needs of working people, also alluding to spaces near doctors' surgeries
John Day answered that he had worked on the principle that if a town had two car parks it was reasonable to restrict the length of stay on one of them to enable longer stays on the other. Cllr Robinson added that he recognised the need for regular daytime parking through proposed season tickets at a 50 per cent discount of the full cost of using machines. He believed this to be a fair and reasonable cost to use a community asset. The spaces were not owned by employers.
Cllr Burford commented that there was a need for different solutions in different locations and asked if it were not better to operate a different model for each car park, as he believed happened in Tewkesbury.
John Day replied that this council owned a relatively small number of car parks and the report recommended a one-tariff structure. He could not see an argument for differentiating across this particular district.
John Day confirmed for Cllr Winship that penalty charges were fixed nationally and believed that there were two bands set at £50 and £70 with a 50 per cent discount for early payment. He also confirmed for Cllr Coborn that the RTA report included a maintenance cost for the machines.
Cllr Burford asked what effect a decision to allow an initial 20 minutes free would have on the model, and if there were, whether an increase in cost for the charging period could cover that
John Day replied that RTA had looked at the possibility, concluding that it would significantly reduce income. An initial free period of 30 minutes would reduce income by an estimated 37 per cent, because the vast majority of users would only need to use the car parks for that time. It would also be to the detriment of local trade, as people would not be tempted to stay, browse and buy more. There would also be increased enforcement costs. RTA had estimated that the increase in charge needed to offset that initial free period would be £1 for the first hour rising to £4 for four hours or more.
Cllr Molyneux added that there were other possibilities to be looked at. He reminded the committee that the Cabinet decision had not been intended to cover all the detail, which was still up for discussion and consideration by the council in consultation with the town and parish councils and local traders.
Cllr Whitburn asked if RTA had considered the use of barriers to avoid the need for enforcement.
John Day replied that the RTA had considered the use of barriers too expensive for the district's situation. He pointed out that such a system required someone to be available 24 hours a day to release barriers when they failed.
Cllr Bill Evans suggested that the number of eight penalty notices a day might become a target for enforcement officers to reach.
John Day replied that arrangements for the use of enforcement officers would not allow for that. He added that RTA had taken a cautious, conservative view on the number of penalty notices issued.
John Day agreed with Cllr Baynham that the district covered a large geographical area, but efficiencies would be made using the same officers for on- and off-road parking enforcement.
Cllr Hiett expressed concern about using 2006 figures for the report, arguing that they were flawed due to the use of out-of date information.
John Day said that RTA judged that there had been no significant change in usage of the car parks since 2006. There might have been a reduction because of increased fuel costs, but there had been an increase in car ownership over the period. RTA did not think it justifiable to refresh data from all car parks in the district. He did not accept that the figures were flawed. RTA had worked on updated information from the Coleford Car Park review and the pattern of parking. Cllr Robinson added that the review of the Coleford car park usage had been possible through another contract regarding a Bank Street survey, thereby using the council's resources wisely. The council had used RTA because of its long and extensive experience.
Cllr Hiett asked if officers had informed him of any covenants on any of the car parks.
Cllr Molyneux replied that RTA's brief was purely to consider the car parks. The examination of any covenants would be part of the consideration of fine detail. The Solicitor added that the legal team had checked title deeds.
Cllr Morgan asked for clarification of planning policy regarding blocks of flats without parking spaces and residents' use of car parks such as the one in Bellevue Road, Cinderford, and those owned by supermarkets and others.
Cllr Robinson answered that the council would discuss these issues with the town councils, supermarkets and others such as Cinderford rugby club, since his aim was to increase available parking spaces.
John Day explained for Cllr East that machines were normally emptied regularly, but the frequency depended on the level of usage for individual car parks.
The chairman thanked John Day for his time and thorough answers and adjourned the meeting at 8.02pm for a short break.
The chairman reconvened the meeting at 8.17pm.
General questions from the committee and other councillors present
Cllr Bill Evans suggested that car parking should be covered by council tax payment and suggested that the Cabinet take the community's view to ensure a fair and justifiable decision.
Cllr Robinson answered that feedback had been encouraging, but respected the fact that there would be different views on this issue, depending on personal circumstances. He said that the decision had been balanced in taking into consideration the best interests of the community as a whole. He did not believe that the proposal would lead to a change in shopping habits, since 40 pence would not take people very far if they intended to shop elsewhere.
Cllr Sterry noted that consultees had said that charging would have an adverse impact on trade and asked how the council would deliver its promise as at corporate priority 3 to improve local job prospects and increase local expenditure. She added that people involved in tourism were apparently against charging and maintained that people she had spoken to came to the district, because they would not be 'ripped-off'.
Cllr Molyneux replied that tourists did not come to the district because of free parking, but for its many attractions. The council was currently using its resources to best effect by using officers to promote and support tourism. If parking remained free, the council would have to look at reducing other resources to plug the hole. When he had initially considered the issue in 2008,as the relevant portfolio holder, he came to realise that the matter needed to be looked at in the round. When he had consulted with tourism providers and the tourism association they could see the merits of using officer resources to promote the district. He did not believe that to charge 40 pence per hour was a burden, rather that it would enable the council to deliver support for local business and tourism more effectively. Cllr Robinson added hat it was reasonable to expect users to help pay for investment in car parks
Cllr Sterry countered that it was a moral obligation to provide services paid for by all, giving the examples of health care and education.
Cllr Molyneux could not equate those services with car park charging, reminding members that the proposal was part of a balanced approach to the use of resources.
Cllrs Osborne and Burford asked for more detailed enforcement costs than were in the RTA report.
Cllr Robinson agreed with Cllr Hiett's assertion that detailed issues such as the appropriateness of certain car parks for free use needed to be carefully considered.
Cllr Molyneux saw no problem with Cllr Burford's suggestion of a possible scrutiny inquiry into the detail of the proposals, should the committee so recommend.
Cllr Osborne, Mayor of Lydney believed that a number of business premises in Lydney could still hold ‘title’, in perpetuity, to car parking spaces. If this were the case, it would affect income levels
He also asked whether FODDC had adequately assured themselves that such land had not been bequeathed to the residents of Lydney? The land in question may well have been originally administered by Lydney Rural Council, which then become FODDC, however the very word ‘Rural’ suggests that any ‘possessory title’ for such land, previously administered by said council, should instead have been passed to Lydney Town Council for the use of its residents and not claimed by FODDC as an asset. There could be an expensive legal challenge if all detail were not checked.
The Solicitor would research and respond
He believed that the proposal would drive away tourists and small businesses, seriously affecting the economic and social wellbeing of each of the four communities. He quoted the local MP, Mark Harper:' I have looked carefully at all information produced by district council so far but don’t see any benefit resulting from this policy’
(This comment was made in 2007/2008 and does not relate to the current proposals).
Cllr Merrikin, Mayor of Coleford, said that she brought heartfelt experience from her community. The wording of the petition initiated by three of the mayors had been carefully worded to demand a debate at Full Council. To date she believed that it contained almost 6000 signatures.
She argued that all residents benefited in different ways from the services paid for by council tax and that individual services could not be broken down and paid for as used. She was concerned that family business would fold and that visitors would be lost. The council would be penalising working parents buying food for that evening, who might shop closer to where they work instead. She also thought that the recession was worse now than in 2008 and charging represented a back door tax. Additionally the job centre and many of the district's health centres, vets and pharmacies were located next to council car parks. Even 40 pence would be too much for some.
Cllr Coborn, Mayor of Cinderford, still believed that the figures in the RTA report were flawed. Car park charges would tip struggling business over the edge and kill the towns. He also mentioned the possibility of the Localism Bill passing responsibility for car parks to town councils.
Cllr Lawton, Mayor of Newent, gave his town council's view that it supported a fixed rate charge after a free period. He said that Newent's biggest problem was not enough parking spaces. The town council was cautious of charging but wanted parking managed. He disagreed that people came to the district's towns for free parking, citing the recent Newent Onion Fayre, which had attracted many visitors who had needed to pay for attending. He also refuted the suggestion that only charity shops were opening in the towns, giving examples of recently opened new shops in Newent. He had spoken to residents in Newent, who had not thought 40 pence per hour to be too much. He was looking for something positive regarding additional parking to come from this matter.
Cllr Smart said that the Cabinet and the last Council deserved some credit for including charging in the medium term financial plan, which the Audit Commission's annual governance report had praised. She pointed out that many of the tourists visiting the district to experience the beauty of the forest paid a parking charge of £3.50 at Beechenhurst or any other Forestry Commission attraction. She ended by challenging opponents of the proposal to suggest an alternative way of saving £250,000.
Cllr Winship asked how the figures added up to the required amount if the Cabinet had decided not to increase the per hour charge for the remainder of the term of the council.
Cllr Robinson replied that the council had already shown to the satisfaction of the Audit Commission that it could make savings and address budgetary challenges effectively, so he could give some assurance that it would achieve its objectives with the recommendation not to increase the rate from 40 pence per hour.
Cllr Winship commented that reviews could be expensive and small businesses would find the cost of permits a burden. She asked how the Cabinet would address those issues.
Cllr Robinson replied that the council would be regularly receiving a lot of information about car park usage if charging were introduced and there would be no need to engage consultants. The council needed to address the issue of inadequate parking in some towns and the detail would be considered as soon as the proposal could be worked on.
RESOLVED - To suspend Council procedure rule A1(d) to allow the meeting to continue for up to 30 minutes beyond the normal time limit of three hours.
Cllr O'Neill commented that society operated taxation at many levels, for general purposes and expressed concern that this council had already introduced charging for services such as pest control and was introducing a charge for the collection of garden waste, which should be covered by council tax. The council should have consulted widely before taking a report to the Cabinet. He recommended that the committee refer the decision back to the Cabinet recommending a thorough scrutiny of the detail of charging issues.
Cllr Bill Evans maintained that the Leader's position regarding this proposal was not sustainable, again referring to Article 13 of the constitution. He recognised that Cabinet had a difficult job but asked it to listen to the people and reconsider.
Cllr Horne had also spoken to visitors and residents and believed that 40 pence per hour was not excessive. The main points of concern were over the lack of parking spaces.
After determination of the exact wording the committee
RESOLVED - that the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee has concerns regarding the Cabinet's decision to introduce car park charging, and recommends that the proposals be referred back to the Cabinet and that a full scrutiny of the detail of car park charging be undertaken as a matter of urgency.