Labour condemns West Sussex Tories’ “cynical” revenue raising proposals for all motorists to pay for parking permits as the “new Tory poll tax on wheels”
Labour West Sussex county councillors have reacted with outrage at controversial proposals considered this week by the Tory-run council, that over time would make it compulsory for town dwellers all across the county to fork out up to £129 extra a year for a couple with two cars, on top of the council tax they already pay, or even more if there are others in the home with cars.
This development comes as a report was presented this week to the Environment, Communities and Fire Select Committee to give the Cabinet Member for Highways and Infrastructure the power to cover any area that he chooses with a “controlled parking zone” (CPZs) which will charge residents to get permits to park near their own houses. This is likely to apply even for areas where the residents themselves consider they have few or no parking problems, and anyone visiting them will also have to pay for temporary permits. It is anticipated that the charge will be rolled out, town by town, for areas which have gone through “Road Space Audits” (RSAs) with Chichester and Crawley first to be hit by this new charge, but with Worthing and Burgess Hill intended by the council to be next on the list.
West Sussex County Council are the Highways Authority for the county for all residential roads, so have a statutory responsibility to deal with all such road issues, such as problems with parking. The Tory leadership had come under fire by residents over their complete failure to tackle the growing issue where certain parts, but by no means all, of the county’s towns have been suffering from increased parking shortages. Political pressure from opposition members saw the Tory leadership agree to a series of RSAs which were explained to councillors to be used only as a method of measuring the precise areas where there are problems.
- In the report, which is very carefully worded in order to avoid spelling out the full extent of the plans, or the powers it will be giving the Cabinet Member for Highways and Infrastructure, the county council states “Road Space Audits are now being used to identify…better settlement wide parking solutions” and will come forward as each urban area is covered by its own RSA.
- Parking is frequently a problem in many of the towns, but most of the demand from residents is for parking bays and environmental improvement programmes to clear away surplus verges to create more bays, or to fence off areas, so that they cannot be physically parked on. Grass verges being churned up and made to look unsightly because of the pressure on parking in some areas has been a problem. West Sussex County Council has not, and continues not to, put aside any funding for such measures.
- The Tory leadership at the county council has embarked on the series of Road Space Audits, without having made any commitments or put aside any money to address the problems that the studies inevitably identify. It is now clear that in order to circumvent the cap on council tax imposed on them by the Government, they are seeking to use charges to top up the council’s spending on Highways, instead.
- The plans currently will affect Chichester and Crawley, but under the plans outlined in the report, Road Space Audits “will be progressively rolled out to the majority of urban areas across the county” and are lined up next for Worthing and Burgess Hill. This will be followed by Shoreham-by Sea, Haywards Heath and Horsham. Finally, they will target smaller settlements which have also received a number of complaints, including Barnham and Hassocks. The council in its report confirms that the other urban areas in the county not mentioned above will also have RSAs concluded within the next 2-3 years.
- The report confirms that the council’s Tory leadership intend to use any profit made from this additional charge to be spent on other projects “which can be re-invested in the Highways and Transport Service”.
- Under current arrangements for charging for parking permits for existing county CPZs, is up to £43 for the first permit and up to £86 for the second permit making a total of £129 for a couple living together who both own their own cars. Current rules also prohibit more than two permits per household automatically, unless there are sufficient permits left unused in the area the zone covers, leaving families in particular with grown up children struggling with either being refuse a permit or being forced to pay even more (additional permits are even more expensive to buy than the first two).
- Labour councillors are condemning this move as totally out of touch with reality, and imposing a system that officers had previously failed to roll out before because of overwhelming public pressure in many parts of the county, with schemes charging residents for parking either rejected outright, either at initial proposals or consultation stage, or being implemented in a much smaller area than originally planned, due to strong opposition from the outset by residents unprepared to pay extra money they considered disproportionate to the problem. The full list, obtained by the Labour Group, for the last 10 years shows how few CPZs actually got implemented as intended by council officers, and is contained in the table at the end of this release:
Labour County Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) who is a member of the Select Committee where the proposals are being scrutinised, said at the meeting:
“I never thought I would see a proposal like this come forward. This is literally the new Tory poll tax on wheels. As it’s drafted, the recommendations are a charter for sweeping controlled parking zones which gives the Cabinet Member the unchallenged power to impose permit parking on whole towns, if he so chooses, and I foresee that is precisely where this is going.
“It is outrageously unfair to push all the costs of this on to individual motorists in this way. Particularly when the majority of residents in West Sussex evidently don’t suffer from parking problems sufficiently, to be agreeing to pay the sorts of amounts necessary.
“And what about ability to pay? There are motorists who are struggling to balance their finances for whom this will be the final straw and you may be forcing them off the roads. People who might be reliant on their cars to earn a living and certainly to keep some quality of life.
“And I said evidence, well here it is when the officers have tried to do this in the past. So many of the schemes have either been abandoned for lack of support, or been reduced to a much smaller area of perhaps even a couple of roads in the area, because that has been where the majority of the real problems have been and people have made a judgment that it is the least worst alternative.
“I couldn’t support this for my residents, and I have several of the larger controlled parking zones in my division because there is an overwhelming problem, so I know what I am talking about, when these zones are necessary and when people will tolerate them. They should not be pushed through because the council is suffering from a shortage of cash.
“It is a great shame that the Road Space Audits, which came out of genuine pressure on the leadership of this council to take some real action on tackling problem parking has simply been used to facilitate this cynical attempt at charging our residents to subsidise the Highways budget. I cannot accept giving the Cabinet Member a clean sheet to put these wherever he wants, and I believe the council should not proceed with this in anything like its current form.”
When questioned council officers claimed that councillors on their County Local Committees would be involved, contribute and comment, even though it was pointed out to them that under the proposals those same councillors would have no powers to stop new zones coming forward under the new arrangements.
Following a debate at the committee, members from all three parties unanimously backed a recommendation put forward by Cllr Jones supporting road space audits being continued to identify parking problems around West Sussex, but that the committee rejected the plans to give the Cabinet Member such powers, and not to support such wide-ranging schemes, keeping decision making on any parking restrictions proposed to the local councillors on the relevant County Local Committee, in line with current arrangements.
While the committee has voted to oppose the county council’s plans, it still remains the case under county council rules that the Tory Cabinet Member could decide to ignore the wishes of the committee, and to publish a decision to press ahead with imposing the draconian new proposals on the county. It is anticipated that the Cabinet Member for Highways and Infrastructure Roger Elkins (Con, East Preston and Ferring) will do so later this month.