The last Full Council meeting before Christmas tends to be a low-key affair going through a few formalities before Cllrs disappear off for mulled wine and mince pies.
However, tonight was different as parking was on the agenda. I had submitted a written question as follows:-
“As a Council, it is important that we keep high levels of public confidence particularly regarding our parking offer in Camberley Town Centre. Therefore,
(a) How many penalty charge notices have been issued for failing to display a valid permit on the A30 slip road since this scheme came in earlier this year?
(b) How many vehicles and therefore tickets were affected on the evening of Saturday 16th November (Christmas Lights Switch-on) when people were wrongly charged for parking in Knoll Road at a time when it was advertised as being free after 4pm?”
The answer I was expecting was two numbers. However, instead we got a very lengthy speech by the Business Portfolio Holder which lasted several minutes – the summary of which was that (a) was entirely the fault of Surrey County Council. It was only at the very end that we actually got the response which was an astonishing 598 penalty charge notices in a 6 week period. This means that 100 people a week are getting charged £35 (doubled if not paid in 14 days) and over £20k has now been racked up to the public purse.
Now granted, a small percentage may be deliberate people who wouldn’t care perhaps similar to the 13 people who parked for longer than 30 minutes in the neighbouring bay. However, this still leaves several hundred people who have been charged £35 for not realising that the area had now changed and their free 30 mins no longer applies.
The public really don’t actually care whether this is the fault of the Borough Council or the County Council. Nor do they care much for silly finger pointing when both authorities are led by the same political party and should therefore (in theory) get on but clearly don’t.
So what really happened here and more importantly, what are the lessons to be learnt?
Early in 2013, it seems that there was a request from some businesses and residents adjoining the A30 who found it difficult to park. They therefore contacted SCC (I think) to request consideration of a permit scheme along part of the road.
This was then included along with around 75 other requests at a meeting of the Surrey Heath Local Area Committee in March 2013. I attended this meeting as one of the members and the meeting report is here http://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/documents/g2632/Public%20reports%20pack%20Thursday%2014-Mar-2013%2018.30%20Surrey%20Heath%20Local%20Committee.pdf?T=10
Within a 25 page report on the subject of “Annual Review of On-street parking” – the only mention is this,
“London Road Service Road (1321)
Convert part of the limited waiting bay outside numbers 125 to 139 to ‘permit holders only’. This will make it easier for residents who live in nearby flats located above shops etc to find somewhere to park.”
Now in a meeting that mainly discussed Red Road and youth commissioning, this item did generate debate but mainly on one item namely areas of Heatherside following a delegation from residents. There was no actual discussion (at least from memory) of this particular scheme or any other items. Some of us (wrongly) believed that this particular scheme related to the service road and car park behind the shops whereas others perhaps were in favour, had no opinion or didn’t realise. This matter was therefore agreed without formal voting.
What happens to have happened next is that public notices appeared as usual in the newspapers giving a notice period for objection which no one did.
SCC Officers then preceded to put up these signs (standard size) and the scheme came in. No further information was then given and although some people were then caught, SHBC officers had a standard 2 week grace period before tickets were issued. After then, it was enforced – many hundreds have been caught including cllrs who didn’t realise and then insisted on bigger signs.
This is frankly a sorry affair in which both Councils have followed their own procedures correctly but the overall system was flawed. The lessons are therefore:-
- - Need for clearer and more concise committee reports for members
- County members to personally sign off schemes in their area thus showing their clear support for proposal.
- Need for greater use of publicity such as social media networks rather than expecting public to read notices buried away in newspapers. This is the responsibility of both councils.
- Need for better liaison between senior members at County/Borough level including regular meetings about key sensitive areas.
- More flexibility around signage size particularly in sites known to attract large numbers of visitors (such as town centres)
Turning to my second question, the answer I was given tonight was that the Council were only aware of 2 people who had been affected namely myself and another Cllr.
Whilst it may be true that only 2 people had bothered to contact the Council to point this out, I would estimate that the numbers affected would be at least 100 vehicles and potentially 300 people (assuming 2 adults and 1 child). These people wouldn’t have bothered to chase up their £1.50 or £2 but instead will have complained about it to their friends and relatives possibly spoiling their otherwise good experience. I know from Twitter that night that it was certainly more than me and one other Cllr affected.
On the night in question, the Council repeatedly boasted beforehand that there would be free parking after 4pm in their car parks. This was to attract people to attend the Christmas lights switch on in Mall at 4.30pm and a concert in Park Street at 5pm along with a very good Christmas market in the High St during the day. This is an important principle that the Council should not benefit from residents getting caught out in this way.
Sadly, they messed up at Knoll Road – people arriving after 4pm collected their ticket as normal, went to Christmas activities and then found that their “free time” after 4pm was not free after all. Now, it is true that the Council fixed this at some point in the evening and raised the barriers but at the earliest, this wasn’t before 5pm (I left just before 5pm and it certainly wasn’t fixed then).
So, according to the Council response given tonight, on a very busy Saturday afternoon with lots of attractions in town all day, a grand total of 2 vehicles entered or left Knoll Road car park in the hour between 4pm and 5pm (or possibly later). Through a remarkable act of coincidence, both of these vehicles just happened to be driven by one of the 40 Cllrs at Surrey Heath.
Now there may be some people who believe this incredible explanation but I don’t. Instead, I remember cars coming in at the same time as me also wanting to see the lights and concert. Why not acknowledge this and accept this as an error rather than hiding behind those who have bothered to contact the Council about it?
Apparently the current ticket machines in Knoll Road are unable to tell but the good news is that we found out tonight that we have CCTV covering the entrances. Think I might request a copy of the tape for that night to see what actually happened and to get the numbers affected…
It’s quite clear from lots of follow up questions tonight and also other Twitter users and blogs that people are very unhappy with parking in Camberley TC. A new parking strategy agreed last night will eventually help but based on tonight, it’s not hard to see why people are so cross.