Haven’t written a blog for a while but tonight we had the next instalment of the sorry saga regarding the A30 parking permit scheme in Camberley. For those new to all this, hundreds of people in Surrey Heath were caught out by a parking change in a short stretch of Camberley Town Centre road along the A30 and ended up having to pay expensive fines. Whilst due process in terms of the letter of the law was followed by both Councils, we had a typical local government problem of procedure and buck-passing trumping common sense and empathy. End result is of course lots of angry residents losing valuable money and no-one being seen to take any kind of responsibility.
Tonight saw a petition and speech from local vicar, Bruce Nicole of over 800 local residents requesting a refund for fines prior to the larger signs being established. In addition, many other residents were very angry about other associated and relevant issues.
Much as I would have liked to publicly comment on the subject during the meeting, I am there as a rep from Surrey Heath Borough Council albeit as an opposition member. As such, I can’t really speak for SHBC on this issue but it was a pity that the Cllr responsible (who was present in the audience) chose not to identify themselves or make any kind of contribution on any of the important points raised.
Starting with the process, anyone unhappy with a penalty charge on procedural grounds can and should appeal and the details of this are on the Council website.
These details are also on the letter of the penalty charge and involve writing to the Council summarising the grounds and including any evidence such as photos. This will be considered by a different Parking officer based on the evidence provided and I think is generally by one of the Parking team leaders/managers although can’t confirm this for sure. It is not a Panel either of officers or Cllrs as was suggested tonight.
If your appeal is rejected by the Council, you can then appeal to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and their website is here. http://www.trafficpenaltytribunal.gov.uk/site/index.php
They are a body completely independent of the Council and will look at your evidence and that of the Council before coming to a final decision which is binding on all parties. It is very rare for any costs to be awarded against people who appeal.
However, it would appear (at least from a letter that one resident kindly showed me today) that the Borough Council do not actually tell people about the Traffic Penalty Tribunal when they give their decision about someone’s appeal. It does appear on the Council’s website albeit not in a prominent place. This means that many residents are not even aware that there is a completely independent body that can overturn a Council’s decision about the validity of an individual charge or that they can then appeal to them.
I wasn’t aware of this omission and it seems very wrong to me so I will be asking the Portfolio Holder to change this. In my view, every appeal decision letter should include details of the Traffic Penalty Tribunal so residents can take it further if they so wish.
It is important to note that the Tribunal cannot overturn Council policy but is merely there to interpret the validity or otherwise of a penalty charge notice.
On a different note, it also appears that the customer service of the Borough Council has been found lacking on this subject. A number of residents stated that they had contacted the Council/senior officers and found no response or very delayed. As was mentioned by a colleague, part of this can be explained by current personal circumstances of one senior officer to whom we offer our full support. However, it would appear that despite best endeavours, some resident messages may have slipped through the Council net and therefore not received any or a suitable response. This is clearly very frustrating for those residents who still expect the Council as an entity to respond even if individuals for very good reason are not able to do so at this time. Hopefully, other senior officers and members will relook at whether there are any current gaps and cover as best they can even if just with a holding response. Most residents will give the Council a lot of credit if they are just kept informed without needing every detail.
Telling residents caught out that it is all their fault is just not a suitable response either and greatly irritates people. No-one is forced to park in Camberley and all that happens is they will go elsewhere and tell others about how bad Camberley and how bad the Council is. Like any business, it takes a long time to gain a customer and a short time to lose them. The argument put by many is that it is the Council’s responsibility to put up signs big enough for people to see and there is no law to stop them being bigger than “national guidelines”.
Turning to a different issue and the conduct of individual parking officers was also questioned again with one resident claiming that two officers watched them park but said nothing to them and then gave them a ticket. It is important to note that the Borough Council have repeatedly stated that staff do not get any bonus or financial incentive to issue tickets.
In addition to the appeal process for fines mentioned above, if ever people wish to raise concern about any individual Surrey Heath officer, you can also use the Council’s Complaints system and details of this can be found here:-
Again, if you exhaust the Council’s internal system which involves consideration by senior managers, there is the Local Government Ombudsman who is independent. You can also contact your local Cllr if you think there is a policy or political issue that needs addressing. However, Cllrs won’t get involved in staffing matters (such as complaints against individual officers) which are dealt with by senior managers. Cllrs should (it does vary though) outline the general process to you and can make enquiries about the progression.
As I have previously said, this situation is a sorry state of affairs to which neither Council or any Cllrs emerge with any credit. Personally, I don’t think that anyone is “to blame” but the system failed and no-one should allow this to happen again. If we can all raise awareness and avoid a repeat then at least one positive will come from it.