Thursday, 3 March 2011

Massive parking charge rises will go ahead

The bare bones of today's call-in meeting on the issue of parking charges are that the decision was made not to refer the matter back to Cabinet. But the meeting served to highlight what an arrogant and ill-founded decision it was to increase parking charges so massively.

I realise the 'arrogant and ill-founded' are strong words, but time after time, officers were unable to produce any evidence for their decisions and relied on statements such as "We assumed..." and "We thought..." Councillors across the board became frustrated with the lack of hard evidence to back up the decisions that have been made and with the fact that the evidence that was put forward by residents was ignored.

My Lib Dem colleague Edwina Hannaford skewered the administration many times with tough questions about the lack of any real facts to back up the decision that was made.

One of the key questions was as to why officers had based their study of the effects on poorer people on just five areas in the West of Cornwall when many of the biggest changes are in the East. The reply was along the lines of "because we did". The fact that many poorer people live in the East and the public transport networks in North Cornwall in particular are almost non-existant were ignored.

Another issue concerned the assumption of a 5% drop in driver numbers due to the price increases. No evidence had been produced for this assumption and it was put to officers that they just plucked it out of thin air. Indeed, officers admitted that they had not even considered a detailed report from 2008 "because it was too old".

And the effect on town centres and businesses? It appears that the Council relied on the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses despite neither group turning up to more than a small handful of meetings and, in the case of the Chamber, failing to consult many town based Chambers. The Council has a commitment to work with businesses as partners but that apparently does not apply to parking charges.

The key message that came through was that, although there had been a wealth of 'consultation' on the parking changes, the responses that came from the public were almost universally disregarded and no hard evidence was ever gathered.

In the end, despite this quite incredible admission, the scrutiny committee voted not to refer the issue back to Cabinet with all the Conservatives and Independents present voting against referral and all the Lib Dems voting for. I am told that the administration groups had been lent on quite heavily to 'toe the line' on the issue.

I do want to pay credit to Independent councillor Bob Egerton however. For technical procedural reasons a Lib Dem councillor was excluded from taking part in the meeting and Cllr Egerton, who did not agree with the exclusion but was minded to vote with the administration, offered to 'pair' with him to ensure that neither side was unfairly treated.

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