7 November 2012

Hopscotch is hopping mad

How to avoid parking charges and tickets

So there we have it, Cllr Dean Cohen who is now the poor sap in charge of the mess that parking has become in the borough, a poisoned chalice if ever there was one, has announced his experimental new charges for North Finchley which are 35% down on what they used to be but still excessive and still an above inflation increase on what has gone before. The detail will be part of a future blog but these changes, although a small step towards traders, still largely leave them with the same difficulties, especially the pay-by-phone system. It is as if the council want to do the minimum that they can instead of being bold and radical (perhaps they just don't have the vision for it?)

Here is the exchange of a local trader, Mr Michael Kentish of Hopscotch Sweets, a shop that is well worth a visit (Mr Mustard is partial to a liquorice allsort now and then, and chocolate covered nuts and raisins, and...stop there and write your blog Mr Mustard) with one of the local ward councillors, David Longstaff who also happens to be the Cabinet Member for Safety and Resident Engagement. Is he engaging? let's see.

Sent: 03 November 2012 18:36
To: Cohen, Dean Cllr Conservative;
Cornelius, Cllr Richard Conservative;
Longstaff, Cllr David Conservative;
Prentice, Cllr Wendy Conservative;
Perry, Cllr Bridget Conservative (these last two ladies never reply substantively to anything from Mr Mustard and leave david to do all the replying and just nod in agreement)

Cc: theresa@theresavilliers.co.uk; eric@ericpickles.com; mayor@london.gov.uk;

Subject: Barnet Council benefitting at the High Street's expense


I am angry, very angry. I cannot remember Barnet High Street as desolate as it is this Saturday afternoon.

It has been a lovely sunny autumn day, there was the annual Barnet Church Fair over the road and an outdoor event at Barnet College. It’s also the first Saturday after payday. Few have come. Trading has been appalling, even compared to a wet Sunday morning (but then parking is free on Sundays).

I have just been to the town car park in Moxon St. It is 50% empty!!!

32 vacant spaces at 2:45 to be exact. Photos are attached. You used to have to queue to get a place after 9am.

We are approaching the Christmas trading period. I have spoken with many traders – if the parking situation is not improved they will not survive. Yes, the recession and internet has had some impact and that is why the high streets need extra stimulus and not be plundered to raise extra tax.

Shops have many fixed costs that amount to a considerable amount. It is only after these costs are met that they turn a profit. The margin on goods bought wholesale is small and turnover is taxed for VAT at 20%. It is the Christmas period that can be make or break for a shop – the day that overheads are finally paid off is known as Black Friday (22nd Nov).

You have done nothing to alleviate the problem. Indeed, it is your policies and lack of action that has led to this situation. IT IS YOUR DUTY as elected councillors representing the local community to sit up and listen and take immediate action.

We urgently need a change in the parking arrangements:

· Make the first half hour free.
· Bring back Free After Three
· Increase short term Town Centre parking places with a reduction in fees to create churn. This will stimulate both trade and parking account overall revenue. Designate Moxon St and Stapylton Road as short stay only.

· Restore the pay and display machines in the car parks. We understand that all those side-street meters were expensive to maintain. But the cost to keep the meters in High Barnet’s THREE car parks would be way offset by the increase in prosperity that it would give the town. An even better solution would be to install smart meters that accept cash, cards and payment cards.

The root cause of the failure of the high street is that people are not coming to it. This is because they cannot park easily and cheaply due to the difficult and obscure Pay By Phone payment method and the council’s dependency on parking revenue. According to the latest figures, this income is now drastically failing to meet targets. I saw a recent comment in the press in response to Mr Cohen’s remarks that the recession and the internet were the reason why the high streets were failing. I think it sums up how both traders and our customers feel:

Dean Cohen’s remarks are simply insulting, shocking and fundamentally frightening.

The heart of this problem is that Barnet council has become dependent on what is effectively a parking tax. And like a drug addict or alcoholic they are in denial, unable to grasp the reality of what they have done and continue to do.


Caring for the people AND businesses within the borough is the essential purpose of the civic body that is Barnet Council.

This means engaging with traders – NOT ONE councillor has visited businesses in my high street to ask how we are doing and what we would like to see done to improve trading conditions, be it parking or street cleaning. Cohen’s Consultation Survey was ridiculous in that of all the questions it asked there was only one tiny comment box to say what actually mattered. The rest of the questions were regarding how traders used their vehicles and how business employees parked when going to work. It looked like the council is seeking to gather more information to raise further taxes on us!

The council needs to pay heed to Eric Pickles, Mary Portas, The Federation of Small Businesses and all the other reports on the High Streets and changes in the retail environment.

At a very minimum they need to immediately restore parking arrangements to how they were prior to November 2011.

They need to SUPPORT businesses within the borough, not ASSET STRIP them!

They need to go further than November 2011 and provide some town centre parking incentives. This is simply obvious to all, except to a collection of addicts living in denial.

Pay and display machines need to be URGENTLY RESTORED and there should a period of free parking and lots more low priced short term parking - any shop keeper will tell you churn equals income. And perhaps a small bit of humility and apology leading to some recompense to the businesses that remain, having struggled to stay afloat.

Please act quickly and not force traders into fighting the council for survival. Fight they will – they have large windows in which to run another poster campaign!

Yours sincerely,

Michael Kentish
Hon. Treasurer
Barnet Business & Traders Association
88 High Street, Barnet, Herts, EN5 5SN

5 November 2012 - 08:11

Dear Michael Kentish,

I don’t know if you are aware, but Cllr. Cohen and I will be meeting Gail Laser (Chairman of Barnet Traders and Businesses) this week.

I am aware of what is happening in the High Streets and I do talk to many traders, although I don’t go door to door down the High Street. I sat next to you at the last ‘Barnet Traders and Businesses’ meeting. I was at the previous one, when Café Pacino was supposedly hosting the meeting but shut-up shop and went home before 5.30pm. The first Barnet Traders meeting I attended in 2010 had four traders present.

I have reported back to Cllr. Cohen and The Leader what is being discussed.

I agree with you regarding the parking and whilst it is an incredibly important issue, which Cllr. Cohen is working to change, the parking is not the sole issue. For many months the Spires car park has been much cheaper, takes cash and still has plenty of space available during the week (although it recently put up its parking rates).

It’s not just the parking. You may have seen recently that Comet has severe financial issues and their shops have free parking. Allied Carpets closed 142 shops but had plenty of parking, JJB Sports is another that called in the receivers and they have free parking at a large number of sites.

On our High Street:

‘Game’, a national chain, closed down many branches in the UK because of internet competition, which is a shame as they pulled in younger shoppers. Music shops went the same way, but it’s a great that Waterstones is still their (sic). Internet shopping is growing at 10% per year.
‘Past Times’, a national chain, closed down.
‘La Senza’, a national chain, closed more than 50% of its shops.
‘Clinton Cards’, national chain, went into administration
The shop that has fish which nibble your feet has shut.
WH Smiths shut the branch on the High Street.

Other shops with difficulties not on our High Street include Blacks Leisure, Barratts, D2 Jeans, Jane Norman, Habitat, Thorntons, TJ Hughes, Focus DIY, HMV, Carpetright, Ellie Louise, Peacocks and Aquascutum.

Over ‘Oceans’ there is a bush growing out of the brickwork. Café Pacino have, for whatever reason, not been opening half of their front shutters recently, which isn’t the best advert for themselves or the High Street.

Barnet Market, which pulls in many shoppers, was run into the ground over the last few years by the previous owner. The current owners of the market have, following cosultation (sic) with residents and the council changed their plans. A new application is expected any day now and the council are fully aware of the importance and significance of the Market and its position as an attraction for shoppers.

Cllr. David Longstaff

Now if that email had been sent to Mr Mustard he would have sent a rocket back because it blames everyone else and accepts no responsibility. Mr Mustard has met Michael Kentish a few times and he is incredibly intelligent and he had started a good local business until the council messed up the parking. He is entitled to be mad and tell the local council representative what he thinks. He did.


I rather think that you response sums up what is really going wrong here. The fact that the country is facing severe economic challenges is not an excuse to throw the towel in and sit on your hands. Indeed, it should provide greater impetus for you to do more for the High St.

Surely as a local ward councillor you should be going door to door down the High St to introduce yourself, to fact find and generate interest, and not whinge about the lack of commitment by some traders! Traders are already swimming against a tide of bureaucratic and financial obstacles and do not need blame from the people who should be helping them.

Have YOU spoken to Cafe Pacino and helped in any way to resolve their problems?

Barnet Council’s parking policies have been disastrous and they have actively worked against the success of the High St. To be blunt, a doctor does not prescribe poison to his patient!

You should be seeking ways to provide stimulus to the commercial success of the high streets, not tax them out of existence.

Yes, we all know the retailers that you cite – many of them have simply contracted and are still trading in more viable high streets. Comet, Allied and JJB were victims of consolidation by their rivals – they couldn’t keep up with the merger of Curries and Dixons. Their rivals still enjoy trading in out of town retail parks as well as the internet.

What Barnet’s parking policy has done is increase the risk score in PMA Service’s PROMIS rankings. PMA is a market analysis service used by most large retailers.

Introducing high fees, making it difficult to pay by removing meters, favouring long stay parking and creating a pernicious enforcement culture has led to the analytical conclusion that it is too risky to do business in Barnet. Got to cut stores? Cut the Barnet ones. Open new stores? Barnet is way, way down the ranking list now.

Last Saturday it was heaving in London Colney, Brent Cross and Enfield. Most consumers in our locality still have jobs, have the lowest mortgages in living memory and actually have good disposable incomes. It is quite possible to do all your Christmas and food shopping in High Barnet, with the convenience of not having to spend time queueing in heavy traffic getting to other destinations. The problem is that people cannot think beyond the expense, inconvenience and frustrating experience of the parking arrangements. They have lost interest and cannot be bothered with a high street which, although struggling, still has most of what anyone needs.

Please: stop bashing the traders, stop living in denial, sort out parking, shout about the quality and variety of the remaining shops we have, and work to encourage a major clothing retailer or two. And then High Barnet will be back on track to be a cracking high street with history and charm.

Michael Kentish
Hon. Treasurer
Barnet Business & Traders Association

In Mr Mustard's experience of corresponding with David Longstaff it doesn't ever seem to lead anywhere meaty; David simply looks for the easy answer. Mr Mustard went to a lot of trouble to write the Longstaff Letters and after sending a long and carefully considered email what did he hear from David Longstaff? nothing at all.

So it is the same here. Councillors need to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves: "What can we do to help the High Street". The Special parking Account does not need to make over £6 million a year. It only needs to make £1, yes a £1, that is all.

If you are passing Barnet Church, pop into Hopscotch, buy 100g of lovely sweets (and they have now diversified into cake decorations) and introduce yourself to Michael, he is an affable fellow when you are not ruining his business.
Any guesses as to what sweet Cabinet Members eat? 


Update: To avoid any accusations of chauvinism Mr Mustard is now adding (with the approval of the lady concerned) this note that the Hopscotch business is very much a joint venture with the redoubtable Mrs Alice Kentish who has always been in the shop whenever Mr Mustard has been in and who has acquiesced in Mr Mustard wandering down the road with her husband to the Mitre (well worth several visits) for the right amount of beer.

Now what Michael didn't mention in his email to Longstaff was that a councillor did go into the shop in May 2012 but not to commiserate about parking difficulties. No, it was the very architect of the bonkers parking system himself, one Brian Coleman AM, who popped in to remonstrate with the local shopkeepers for having the temerity to put up posters about Brian having killed the High Street. Luckily for Brian he found himself talking to Alice whose previous work experience (occupational therapist in psychiatry) had prepared her perfectly for such an encounter, the poster remained and Brian left to go off and make a hairdresser cry.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

1 comment:

  1. This week is the anniversary of cashless parking in High Barnet! Dean Cohen is coming up the hill tomorrow, over a year later.


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