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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Cumbria County Council answers parking charges questions

Cumbria County Council voted to introduce on-street parking charges following huge cuts to its funding. The Evening Mail is backing the Reverse the Charges campaign to abandon the plans - but here we are happy to publish the council's full Frequently Asked Questions document explaining why the scheme has been drawn up.

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What does the introduction of on-street parking charging mean for me?

It’s important to control parking in the most popular on-street parking bays in town centres and the council currently has restricted waiting periods in some bays by the side of the road. It is clearly signed who can park in a bay (eg any vehicle, residents with permits, loading only) and how long they can park there for. Many areas in Cumbria use a time disc system, so you park, indicate your time of arrival with the time disc and then make sure you move your vehicle within the period you’re allowed to park there (depending on the parking bay, it could be 20 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours etc). Once on-street parking charges become operational, instead of having a free time-restricted period of parking, in some allocated bays you will need to buy a parking ticket for the length of time you want to park and display the ticket in your vehicle. There will still be restrictions on the length of time you can pay to park for, and some bays will remain free.

Where is charging going to be introduced?

The council has decided to introduce charging in the following 11 towns:
- Ambleside
- Barrow
- Carlisle
- Cockermouth
- Kendal
- Keswick
- Maryport
- Penrith
- Whitehaven
- Workington
- Windermere & Bowness

In Allerdale, Keswick has been selected as a pilot introduction town with Cockermouth, Maryport and Workington to have a later implementation.

Normally this will involve the council selecting which of the most popular high street parking bays in these towns would be suitable to convert from free time-restricted parking to a paid-for ticket. Some free time-restricted areas will remain free (and still controlled by time discs where they are in use). Councillors advised by highways officers may decide to use this change as an opportunity to review some of the existing time limits and waiting restrictions.

How is it going to happen?

The decision to charge to park has already been made by the county council following a public consultation last year. The next step is to go through the necessary local legal process to introduce charging. This will be done through Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs).
Councillors will propose the specific streets where on-street charging should be introduced in each town; the time restrictions for each of the parking bays; the proposed charges; and a statutory consultation on those will then commence. Following the expiry of the statutory consultation, (where the statutory organisations, the general public, and partner organisations can comment on the proposals), the content of the ETROs are then agreed (having taken into account any representations which have been received, and amending the proposals if deemed appropriate). The ETROs are then made operative and notice of their implementation is advertised on site and in the local media.
The ETROs remain in force for a maximum of 18 months. Representations may be made during the first six months of their operation as to whether the ETROs should be continued in force on a permanent basis. During the first 12 months of the ETROs operation, councillors may give consideration as to whether the scope of the ETROs should be amended so as to make them less onerous (eg reduce the scope of the area where charges apply, or reduce the hourly parking charges) following receipt of representations during the first 6 months. Councillors must decide whether the ETROs should be made permanent before the 18 month period expires.

When will charging begin?

It takes a number of months to go through the process of proposing the detail of the charges; capturing public opinion; agreeing the experimental Traffic Regulation Orders and then making them legal; and ordering and installing the ticket machines, along with all the relevant signage on the streets. In all likelihood charges will not start until the beginning of 2015. Not all charges will be introduced at the same time in all 11 towns. In Allerdale, for example, councillors have decided that charging will begin in Keswick while further investigation is being carried out about how charging can be introduced in Cockermouth, Maryport and Workington. Until charging begins, the existing time restrictions system will remain in place.

How much will the charges be?

The level of charges will be determined locally, and it has been agreed that the charges will be either the same as or up to 20% more than the rate charged at the local district council off-street car park. On-street parking needs to be at least as expensive as off-street parking because we want to increase the availability of on-street parking bays, reduce traffic volumes in busy high street areas and encourage people to use the dedicated off-street car parks. Councillors will also be decide whether to have a free ‘grace’ period of, say, 20 minutes free waiting, to encourage the ‘pop and shop’ ethos for those making really quick shopping trips. Unlike a barrier-controlled off-street car park, where you can pay for the amount of time you have parked at the end your stay, you will need to decide in advance how long you want to park and pay for and display your ticket from the outset.

Will everyone have to pay? What about disabled people with blue badges?

Blue badge holders will be able to park for free in bays with parking ticket machines and are not restricted on the length of time they can park there. This means there is no change for them from the current system (they currently do not have to adhere to the time restrictions). Blue badge holders can also park on single or double yellow lines for up to 3 hours, as long as they are not causing an obstruction. Some streets may have parking bays which are charged, but parking is free for vehicles displaying a residents’ parking permit (or any other permit issued by the council exempting the vehicle from the waiting limit, such as a visitor’s permit).

What about motorbikes, vans, cars with caravans and other larger vehicles – will they have different charging rates?

Due to the need to display a ticket in a vehicle, motorbikes won’t be required to pay as there is no way of safely and securely displaying a ticket. There will be a single charging rate set per vehicle, regardless of its size. The normal conditions/restrictions will continue to apply to the issue of resident’s parking permits and the use of parking places.

Will it be possible to have a free period of parking before charges start applying?

Yes. If councillors decide that it’s the right solution for a specific street, they will have the discretion to allow a free ‘grace’ period of, say, 20 minutes. This will encourage the ‘pop and shop’ principle, where the availability of spaces is increased because there’s a higher turnover of vehicles going in and out of bays, but people aren’t discouraged from making a very quick trip to the shops. If councillors do decide to allow for a period of free parking, drivers will still be required to obtain a ticket from the parking ticket machine to indicate the time of arrival.

What if I don’t have the right change?

The modern ticket machines that the council is planning to procure allow payment by credit/debit card and also using a mobile phone. Just like an off-street car park, not paying for a parking space in a paying location is not allowed and you would risk receiving a fixed penalty fine if you left your car for too long without displaying a ticket. Of course, parking enforcement officers are trained to make decisions, show discretion and be fair. They appreciate that drivers need to initially go and purchase a ticket from a ticket machine before displaying it, and may also need to get the correct change.

Will local residents have to pay to park as well?

The council is simultaneously introducing a new scheme charging £20 for a resident’s parking permit. Parking bays will be clearly marked where there are exemptions for residents; remaining free but time restricted; paid parking with ticket machines – or combinations of these options. Residents will not be required to pay in a charged parking bay if their resident’s permit is valid there and is clearly displayed in the vehicle in the usual way.

What about the impact on local shops and town centres? Isn’t this going to hit their trade as fewer people will shop there?

This is a concern that is often raised. The relationship between parking charges and retail is a complicated one, but the introduction of on-street charging does not necessarily have a negative impact on the economy of towns. In May 2010, the Department for Transport commissioned an independent report from the Transport Research Laboratory, Parking Measures and Policies Research Review, which assessed the impact of different types of parking measures and policies on traffic, congestion, business activity and townscapes. Among its conclusions was the following: “Critics often claim that parking pricing spoils local economic activity by discouraging customers, but it actually provides both economic benefits and costs. It increases turnover of parking spaces which makes finding a space easier, reduces the number of parking spaces required at a location which can provide financial savings, and can reduce traffic problems such as congestion.”
In Cumbria, currently it can be difficult to find a space in the most popular high streets at busy times, because they are full of static vehicles parked for up to an hour, or sometimes longer, whilst frustrated drivers circle around looking for a gap. If the proposal leads to fewer vehicles (as opposed to people) in total, and shorter stays from those that park, then it could actually lead to better turnover and increased trade for local businesses.

I’ve heard other councils are removing their parking charges to help local businesses. Why is Cumbria starting to charge now when we’re still coming out of the recession?

Cumbria has traditionally been one of only a handful of local authorities that has not charged for on-street parking, so most people living in the UK are well-used to the concept of putting money in an on-street parking ticket machine. Cumbria is an area with a net influx of visitors coming to its magnificent landscape and tourist attractions, so the county has had the increased congestion and road use (alongside the benefits that visitors also bring) but does not recoup income from these visitors through on-street parking charges. The council believes that if the local retail offer is right then people will be willing to pay a reasonable amount to park. The rate that the county council is charging is directly related to the local rate set by the district council for off-street car parking, so a reduction in off-street charges would mean lower on-street charges. An authority that is often cited as an example of one removing its parking charges is Northumberland - but in fact some towns and locations in Northumberland have decided to carry on charging because they recognise the benefits that restrictions can bring. The reality is that on-street charging will only apply a tiny proportion of Cumbria’s highways and the vast majority of roads will remain unchanged by this.

Parking is already a problem in my town, with not enough available spaces. Is this going to make things even worse?

The way people currently park in town centres is a mixture of paid-for off-street, free time-restricted off-street (eg supermarket car parks) and free on-street in both restricted and unrestricted areas. Three out of these four options will not be affected by the change. The only change will be that some free restricted on-street bays will start charging. Drivers will have the choice of either paying (if there’s no free grace period or they’re planning to stay longer) or seeking one of the other three options. Because on-street parking bays are currently free and the waiting periods are typically for one or two hours, it can be hard to find an available space and drivers often revert to the other options anyway. The perception of a town being ‘full’ and there being nowhere to park could actually be improved.

How is the council going to monitor what the impact of charging is further down the line?

The council will carry out local traffic flow studies both before and after charging is implemented. The analysis will centre on vehicle movements on streets where charging applies and neighbouring streets so that we can assess whether there has been any ‘displacement’ of vehicles. The council will also monitor the occupancy of parking bays and turnover of vehicles. It will not be possible or meaningful to carry out any study on the levels of local trading firstly because the financial affairs of traders are private and we would be reliant on hearsay and unscientific data, and secondly because it would be impossible to isolate the impact of on-street charging on local trade from any other factors which can affect a local business (eg weather, sociological trends, the quality of the retail offer, competition from the internet etc).

Are you considering the visual impact these ticket machines will have on the town? Won’t they look ugly?

The council is still in the process of choosing which ticket machine system to procure, but modern ticket machines are simple to use and well-designed. They will be approximately 100 metres apart, which strikes the right balance between reducing their visual impact and not expecting drivers to walk too far (a parked car will always be within 50 metres of a paying point). Parking ticket machines are an accepted part of any modern townscape - just like road signs, benches, post boxes or litter bins.

Is the council going to have to rip up the streets to install the ticket machines?

As the ticket machines are solar-powered, they do not require mains connection. This minimises any disruption when they are installed and it can be done simply and quickly. It also makes their removal easier if the local committees decide that they should be removed following the ETRO process.

Will they be obstructing the pavements and get in people’s way – especially people in wheelchairs, mobility scooters, blind people or people with prams?

The ticket machines will be located in positions where there’s sufficient room on the footways to accommodate them. They will be positioned approximately 100 metres apart.

Why is the council doing this?

There’s a number of reasons why the council has decided this has to happen:

- Parking controls have been introduced in Cumbria over many years and have been based around the use of the parking ‘disc’ system with both the disc and the parking usage provided free of charge. In fact these parking controls themselves were introduced under legislation which allows for charges to be used to recover the cost of these measures and for any surplus revenues to be used to improve local transport infrastructure. The controls were originally put in place as some areas of Cumbria suffer from traffic congestion and capacity issues with on-street parking availability. This remains an issue and one measure which has been identified to help address this would be to introduce on-street parking charges.

- The national reduction in funding to local government means Cumbria County Council is losing one pound in every four it receives to spend on services, so it has to reduce its costs. Currently enforcing parking restrictions costs the council money (the costs of employing parking enforcement officers or paying the districts to provide this service for us, providing the free time discs, maintaining road signs and lines so that restrictions are legally enforceable etc). By introducing a charge, the council can recover these costs. This means that it can help protect against cuts in other essential services, such as caring for old and vulnerable people and looked after children. Charging will also potentially reduce congestion and deal with on-street parking availability in busy town centres as there will be fewer cars circling around looking for a free space.

- The wider context for the introduction of on-street parking charges is to ensure that, within the scope of legislative guidance, the management of parking regulations in Cumbria is carried out effectively and that the cost of doing so is recovered from the motorist, ie the party which benefits, rather than funding parking controls from general revenues, as is currently the case.

Isn’t this just an excuse for the council to make a profit out of motorists?

There are laws on where councils can and can’t spend the money generated from parking charges. Councils wouldn’t be able to use the money to, for example, buy library books or pay the costs of waste disposal. Income generated through parking charges can only be reinvested in eligible highways and transport works – meaning drivers are contributing to the costs of using the roads.

What would the alternative to on-street charging be?

Making deeper cuts in other services could be an option, but the council is having to save £200m a year by 2018 and still needs to identify £70m in savings across the board. One alternative could be for the council to stop parking enforcement altogether as it is not a statutory duty to enforce parking restrictions. While this may initially sound attractive to drivers thinking they can park where they like, the reality would be town centres clogged with cars, no available parking spaces outside shops as cars are left parked there for a long time and blocked roads. We envisage that businesses and residents opposed to the introduction of parking charges would soon be just as vocal in calling for proper enforcement to be reintroduced.

Have you consulted with people about doing this?

The county council ran a 12-week budget consultation from October 2013 to January 2014, where it asked the public for their views on 35 separate savings, one of which was to introduce on-street parking charges in the 11 listed towns. The budget consultation received the largest response ever, with 1,512 completed consultation forms and over 600 additional items of separate correspondence (emails/letters). The council also proactively communicated to specific stakeholders including Chambers of Commerce, district councils and parish councils, encouraging them to engage and respond. There was a net disagreement with the on-street parking proposal (-6%), but it is not the case that the majority of people opposed the proposal as those supporting plus those that were neutral outweighed the opponents. Nevertheless this was a consultation, not a referendum. The consultation was not designed or meant to be a ‘vote’ on which proposals should be accepted; it was designed to help the decision makers (our elected members) make their decisions while being mindful of the opinions and views of the stakeholders and public who responded to the consultation. Although the number of consultation respondents was the highest ever for the county council, it was still not a statistically representative sample of public opinion in Cumbria (and was not designed to be so). There will be a separate local consultation process when implementing the specific Traffic Regulation Orders, giving people further opportunities to comment on the detail.

What can I do if I want to object to this or oppose the introduction of parking to my town?

Once councillors have agreed which streets they propose to introduce charging on (their meetings take place in July 2014), there will be a consultation period when members of the public, statutory consultees or stakeholders can comment on the proposed locations, the charging rate and restriction times. The detailed plans for each town will be available at www.cumbria.gov.uk/payingtopark , along with details on how to respond. These views will be taken into consideration when councillors then formally agree the content of the experimental Traffic Regulation Orders. There then follows a six-month period while the experimental TROs are operational and parking charges apply when anyone can make a formal objection to the experimental TRO being continued in permanent effect and state to why it should not be made permanent.

Have your say

Why do we have to pay on the highways when i already pay for road tax. i thought we have carparks to pay for couple of hours and not on the queens highways.sack afew top earners that do nothing except take our money.

Posted by robert on 31 August 2014 at 00:53

Windermere and Bowness Action Group are in the process of contesting claims made by CCC and CCC Councillor John McCreesh (Chairman of South Lakes Local Area Committee) regarding the introduction of on street parking charges and resident parking permit policy.
Where is the evidence to justify the introduction of these controversial charges that are being introduced without an economic impact assessment or traffic survey to support them, and with scant regard for due process?

CCC councillor John McCreesh has claimed that the proposal ( Proposition 29)...... ‘had been put out to public consultation between October and January, the feedback was fairly well balanced for and against’...........this is not true the consultation showed a majority against this proposal. (CCC Budget Consultation 2014/2015 Feedback Report January 2014).
‘There was little warning of the opposition campaign which has been filling the local media, social media, and councillors’ inboxes’. A proper consultation would have demonstrated the strength of opposition……this is just evidence of an inadequate consultation that we know reached only a fraction of the electorate, the fact that only 0.4% (1400 from 393,000 residents) responded bears testament to that.
‘The argument for having on-street town centre parking is that it encourages people to ‘pop and shop’ at their local shops’. Evidence gathered by WaBA Group concludes that it puts a levy on small value purchases and places small businesses at a disadvantage.

‘It helps ever so slightly redress the balance with out-of-town supermarkets offering free car parking’. Supermarkets are not ALL out of town but rather in town with free parking , so no balance there!

‘If motorists want to park for an extended period (typically more than an hour), then they should be in an off-street car park. This principle is accepted as part of everyday life throughout Cumbria (and beyond)’. Off-street car parks are unaffordable for regular users and the principle of on street parking charges is not acceptable within the National Park and is not supported by the businesses operating within the park.
‘However, providing this service costs money, and the money available to Cumbria County Council is rapidly disappearing – nearly £25m less this year, another £88m over the next three years, on top of the £88m it has already saved since the start of the decade. That’s a lot of savings to find’. So why is CCC spending money on purchasing, installing and servicing on street parking meters which it has been stated are ‘experimental’.?
‘Even among local car owning households, how many actually use on-street parking regularly?’ In an area like Windermere and Bowness with a high proportion of elderly residents living in a rural area, most will rely on parking on street, daily.
‘Will people popping into a shop for a packet of crisps, steak pie, and a can of drink really be driven away by having to pay 20p for a ticket? Will they really drive all the way out of town and queue for hours at a supermarket checkout just to avoid paying 20p? or will we actually see more throughput in these valuable parking spaces, and more footfall in the nearby shops?’ The footfall will be essentially the same or less, it will just cost extra to purchase the crisps, pie and drink. WaBA Group believes the cost will be considerably more than 20p since the on street charge is supposed to be in excess of that charged in car parks. Local businesses have stated they don’t want on street parking and don’t consider it will benefit them in any way.
The claim that ‘Vulnerable people will suffer a reduction in services’ if the on street charges do not go ahead is fanciful. Income from parking charges is ring fenced and cannot be used to support other services.
Where is the evidence that the meters will be cost effective?
Given the lack of effective consultation, failure of process, loss of credibility and trust by the electorate CCC would be well advised to call time on this plan before time is called on its Lib/Dem and Labour Councillors.

Posted by Susan K Wales on 10 August 2014 at 17:45

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