It is certainly not the end, but it may be the beginning of the end of the long debate about parking charges across Cornwall, and in Launceston in particular.
Cornwall Council's Cabinet this morning agreed the new set of charges that will apply from the beginning of April. In doing so, they ignored the protestations of thousands of local residents including many who attended the meeting to make one last push for fairness.
The new charges will see average rises of more than 45% for those who pay by the hour and the season ticket prices will rise from £195 to £400 next year and then £600 the year after. This last was, in fact, a slight concession as the original recommendation was to go straight to £600.
What is more, the proposed drop to 50p in the first hour rate has been abandoned and will now stay at 70p.
At the meeting I spoke to make a last ditch plea to abandon the proposed changes. Speaker after speaker had made the case that the new charges were not appropriate for their area. I agreed with them that the proposals do not take into account local factors. I asked for a freeze in charges pointing out that, whilst this would mean we would not hit our income target, the Council already knows it will not meet this target next year and is taking a much greater risk by imposing much higher costs on motorists.
I also pointed out that the 'equalities impact assessment' was woefully deficient. For a start, it was based on the original proposals and not on those that the Cabinet ultimately agreed. In addition, in looking at the economic impact, it concentrated on five areas of West Cornwall which are suffering far lower price rises. No account was taken of the impact on any part of North Cornwall.
Nevertheless, the new charges have been agreed, so what next...
- First, I am seeking to 'call-in' the decision on the basis of inadequate information and lack of consideration of key issues and representations. I have a meeting with a legal officer to discuss this tomorrow.
- Second, a group of local members will be getting together with the Town Council and with local traders to discuss what a fairer charging policy might look like. If we can convince Cornwall Council that they can make the same amount of money as before with a different charging scale and changes in hours then we may have a hope of success.
Maybe it's not even the beginning of the end. Maybe just the end of the beginning?