21 November 2012

The parking cash cow and the future of the High Street

Mr Mustard has this morning emailed Cllr Dean Cohen who inherited the parking problem as part of his portfolio when he took over from Brian Coleman. He has been passed a poisoned chalice and is new to Cabinet and Mr Mustard looks forward to receiving a considered response.

21 November 2012

Dear Cllr Cohen

High dependency on parking income

You have responsibility for parking. The council have become reliant upon parking income during the last decade partly in order to artificially keep council tax down. It is probably not feasible to expect you to be able to stop this dependency overnight but a withdrawal from this nasty habit is required over the next 2 or 3 years.

A push in this direction is also coming from central government.

No compulsion to make a surplus

I attach a copy of the Road Traffic Regulation Act which sets out, inter alia, the uses on which any surplus from parking should be spent. The key point for me is however in paragraph 55(2). There is absolutely no requirement for the council to make a surplus out of parking (although having a buffer to carry forward of £1m might be sensible) but aiming for breakeven (the basis on which the Chipping Barnet CPZ was sold to us some 20+ years ago) or a modest surplus would be prudent.

Let us look at what you have inherited. See pages 37-39 of the Budget Book 2012-13.

Hindering the High Street

The intention is to make a surplus £6,895,970 in this financial year. The Cabinet met on 7 November to discuss a Growth Strategy for Barnet of which Chapter 1 was "Investing in regeneration and supporting business and enterprise". which doesn't seem to contain anything about reducing car parking charges to make the High Street a more attractive place to visit. It is one of the vital factors that must be taken into account. If parking charges, and the risk of getting one of 160,000 parking tickets issued every year, are not reduced you will never succeed in regenerating the High Street. The council controls one of the major factors that affects the viability of a High Street and as leaders you should be setting an example for others to follow - you are, but it is a bad one, taxing the High Street out of existence.

Parking tax of 4.2%

Page 37 shows that of the planned spending of £288m on services some £7m will come from The Special Parking Account ("SPA") of which more than half is the result of penalty charge notices. Moving on to page 38 the council tax requirement for the borough is £159m. If it were not for the excessive SPA surplus you would need to collect £166m so council tax is being subsidised by 4.2% by motorists instead of being paid by council tax payers generally. My own CPZ permit was increased in price from £40 to £100 p.a. last year which is an outrage and the elderly are put off from having visitors by the increase in the cost of all day visitor vouchers from £1 to £4.

Headed in the wrong direction

The projection for the next 2 years is headed in the wrong direction with an increase in the SPA of almost £500,000 in 2013/14. This will have to be reversed out and some scope for reduction found. If the cabinet hadn't decided upon another dubious council tax freeze then you would have had some room to move away from taxing a sub-set of society (High Streets, CPZ residents and the motorist in general) and could have more fairly spread the cost of providing services across the people who are meant to pay for them, council tax payers as a whole.

Not a revenue raiser

The point of parking tickets is not to raise revenue as the council are doing but to try and educate motorists to park fairly and with consideration for others and to ration space where it is in short supply. Sadly there will always be people who take a chance and keep on receiving tickets for blocking dropped kerbs, on double yellows or parked on the pavement (those offences are worthy of a penalty charge ) but penalising people for being 2 minutes over the time paid for (true), for dropping goods off at charity shops (yes, this happened), whilst mending a puncture (yes, this has happened ), whilst a child is choking on crisps on the back seat (unbelievably true), whilst a temporarily homeless person is living in their car (the council should be ashamed), these types of parking ticket just get the council a bad name and make them look like they have put the need for income above all else.

Radical thought and action required

This is a subject I have blogged about.

It might seem radical, and I would urge you to think much more radically than you have done so far (you are new to Cabinet so do need time to find your feet but the High Street doesn't have a lot of time so you do need to get your skates on please), but free parking throughout the High Street of different time periods would mean that shoppers could park, shop owners could not park outside their own shops all day, there would be a good turnover of visitors, and meters would not need to be purchased. The council could still issue parking tickets to regular, and the worst over-staying, offenders.

Will you, Dean Cohen, help to save the High Street?

Do please start planning for 2013/14 and let me know what positive steps you are going to take. Please be bold. Don't make the mistake of thinking that I will be fobbed off with what is in effect a single 2 hour free parking concession on one Saturday before Xmas. 

That is feeble.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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