Scrutiny panel orders Cabinet to take a second look at Fenland’s car parking policies
PLANS which could pave the way for car parking charges in Fenland have been sent back to the district council’s Cabinet after an animated two hour scrutiny panel debate.
The ‘think again’ directive was made today by councillors on the Overview and Scrutiny Policy Panel and followed Cabinet’s decision to endorse a report that could have set the wheels in motion for parking charges to be introduced.
Cabinet had earlier asked officers to move ahead with proposals to link up with the Cambridgeshire wide civil parking enforcement scheme which would lead to traffic wardens policing on street and off street parking – and collecting the fines, possibly using the council’s one stop shops.
Meanwhile officers would have looked at the introduction of a new regime of pay and display in local car parks- with all the income going to Fenland Council.
However independent councillor Mark Archer, as vice chairman of the overview and scrutiny performance panel, challenged the recommendation and insisted the issue was ‘called in’ which led to today’s scrutiny meeting. He said the Cabinet decision was at odds with the recent member led review into car parks and there were also cost implications of implementation to be considered. He asked for further scrutiny to give all members a chance to explore the options available to the council.
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At today’s meeting councillors reeled off a long list of concerns over civil parking enforcement (CPE). Several were worried that the council would be forced into charging as a “pre-requisite” to joining the countrywide CPE.
But council leader Alan Melton confirmed that the council would not be “handcuffed” into charging motorists to park simply because that’s what happens elsewhere.
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He said: “I’m a county councillor, I make no secret of that. But, I’m here as a Fenland district councillor.
“It’s worded clumsily here as it gives the impression, and I know that it’s wound a few people up, that there would be county council pressure to charge.
“I do not believe that the county council are going to turn round and say to Fenland, ‘you will introduce car-parking charges.’
“In any case I would not ask this autonomous body to take instructions from someone else unless it was legally binding.”
There were further questions raised over the decision-making process, when the Cabinet endorsed the plans at their meeting on September 23.
The scrutiny panel concluded that a report into CPE, which was carried out last year, should have been included in the documents presented to Cabinet at that meeting.
There were also concerns over the level of consultation with town councils, the lack of alternatives to charging and the last minute inclusion of Chatteris and Whittlesey into the suggested civil parking enforcement scheme.
Today’s meeting also heard from Wisbech and District Chamber of Commerce which urged Fenland Council not to adopt parking charges for fears that local shops would suffer.
There were also representations from Councillor John Clark, Councillor Steve Count and Cambs county councillor Simon King, who urged the issue to be sent back to full council.
Cllr Melton concluded the meeting by adding: “This was not a blood bath. In my opinion this meeting shows democracy working within this council as it should.”
At September’s Cabinet meeting Cllr Melton had insisted CPE was not “car parking charges through the back door”. However he explained that Fenland paid �400,000 a year to maintain their car parks and some were in need of major capital expenditure.
He was also concerned about safety and security in car parks and that with parks in Wisbech and March often full there was a need to consider finding new car parks- and that needed to be funded.
He explained there was no immediate plan to introduce parking charges but approval of the recommendation to continue talks with the county council would allow all options to be brought forward.
Councillor Peter Murphy of Chatteris had explained to Cabinet that Fenland didn’t want to charge for parking “but the option will be there”.