Monday, 24 January 2011

Parking Panel - a decision that could kill Launceston town centre

Today Cornwall Council's parking panel made a decision which could help to kill Launceston's town centre.

I have blogged frequently in the past about the proposals that the panel had come up with. Set the impossible task of coming up with a scheme which raised revenue by 6% and equalised charges across Cornwall, the panel had made a proposal which would see average hourly rates in Launceston rise by 42% and would increase the season ticket price over the next two years to £600 from the current £195.

Then the Cabinet reported that they had discovered 'new information'. This new information was that there had been various profit sharing deals done by the former district councils (why didn't we know about these earlier) and that the business rates estimate was out by hundreds of thousands of pounds. But, most crucially, we were told ten days ago that the income from parking was estimated to be running a shortfall of £900,000 in the current year. Today, we were told that this amount was actually £1.8 million. There had been no warning that this was coming and, to my mind, shows that the Cabinet member is simply not on top of his brief. Cllr Hicks should have known about any shortfall as and when it occurred and taken action accordingly. To be landed with this at the end of the year is quite incredible.

The Cabinet appears to be demanding that this year's shortfall be recouped next year. They also estimate that the current proposals will result in a £3 million shortfall next year and that too must be addressed.

I spoke at the Parking Panel and said that, in my view, this was simply not feasible. I believe that the lower income proves that people cannot afford to pay high parking fees and putting them up will do no good whatsoever and may even result in an even lower income.

And so, in order to make more money, the parking panel has decided to do three things:

- they are to look again at the types of car parks operated by the council and to seek to split them into those which might be considered community car parks used by locals and those which are destination car parks used by visitors. The evidence is that visitors are more happy to pay higher costs than locals. This work will take several months.

- they will phase the new charges so that all the bad stuff happens straight away and any good aspects of the new regime are delayed. According to the Chair of the Panel, this means that the only good news for Launceston - the first hour charge dropping to 50p from 70p - will be delayed but all the price hikes will take place from April 1st.

- the proposed staging of the season ticket price rises will be abandoned. Instead of the season ticket cost rising to £400 on April 1st (from £195), it will go straight up to £600. The lead officer said he was confident that people would continue to pay it. I know from talking to some of the lowest paid workers in our town that this will not be the case and they will quit their jobs.

Even this proposal only goes halfway to sorting out the £3 million black hole in Cllr Hicks' budget and, from what he said at the meeting, I think it is likely that he will try to find a way to raise the remainder as well.

The Council's lawyer has ruled that this decision must go out to consultation, but the previous effort - in which 1100 people replied and all but 6 rejected the increases - shows that Cornwall Council is hardly likely to listen to complaints.

I have asked at the last three meetings for an assessment of the likely impact on the economy of Launceston and other towns affected but each time have been told that the Council does not intend to do this research.

Regrettably, Cllr Phil Parsons, the Tory councillor representing a ward in the Launceston area and who is a voting member of the parking panel (I have no vote on it) didn't turn up for today's decision.

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