Leeds City Council drop parking permit charge proposals

Eric Pickle vs. Leeds City Council vs. My communityGood news. Leeds City Council’s Executive Board, which meets on the 6th November, are recommended in this report not to progress their proposals to charge for residents parking permits. I hoped this might be the case, but could not be sure, as discussed earlier here.

The report says:

Having considered the Scrutiny Board findings, consultation responses received and also taking account of the judicial ruling against Barnet Council’s proposals to increase its level of charge for such a service, it is considered that the proposal to introduce a fee for residential permits should not be progressed further at the present time.

A consultation was subsequently conducted which included a questionnaire to permit holders in all zones and focus groups of residents and non-zone residents. A total of 4030 questionnaires were returned together with 230 other responses. These indicated a widespread lack of support for this proposal and that the initial indicative charge level was too high. A review by the Scrutiny Board (Sustainable Economy and Culture), together with responses from sixteen Elected Members and three Members of Parliament have also raised concerns about the proposals.

The Equality Impact Assessment within the report says:

4.2.3 The negative impacts were identified as being: Financial, especially those on low incomes. In this regard it would be the intention to pitch the fee levels for Residents and Visitor Permits at a level which should be affordable for all users.

The report does not give assurances that revised proposals won’t be put forward in future, but it is certainly good news that Leeds City Council has listened to feedback. I had summed up my challenges to the proposals in the note below (based on these in an earlier post, Eric Pickles vs Leeds City Council vs My community) which has been distributed to Executive Board members for their 6th November meeting. The new report content shows that lots of other people have been raising the same challenges.

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Challenge 1: The proposals are not based on sound legal advice.

Leeds City Council confirmed to me (in FOI/EIR ref 10333) that any permit charges “would be introduced in accordance with the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 Section 46”. It was Barnet Council’s attempt to raise charges under this act that was declared illegal by the High Court[1] because “the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act is not a fiscal measure and does not authorise the authority to use its powers to charge local residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes”. On this point, Eric Pickles emailed me (on 8/10/13) to say “the law is clear that parking is not a tax for town hall officers.”

While the legal position is clear, Barnet Council’s actions[2] suggest there is a risk that Leeds City Council may still decide to proceed with the proposals under the assumption that income can still be generated in the short-term before a high court ruling is made against them or that members of the public will not have the financial resources to take a claim to the high court. If the Executive Board decided to proceed with the proposals in the face of the revised legal advice which I believe the 6th November Board will receive then there could be significant damage to the relationship between the citizens of Leeds and Leeds City Council.

I therefore ask Leeds City Council to drop the proposals on the basis of their illegality and because proceeding with the proposals regardless of the High Court ruling against Barnet Council would damage the relationship between the citizens of Leeds and Leeds City Council.

 

Challenge 2: Permit charges will disproportionately affect poorer households, will restrict people’s lives, and will have a damaging impact on local communities.

One of the principles Leeds City Council should have built its parking permit charge proposals on is: ‘no resident should be unable to park outside their own home or have visitors parking outside their home just because they cannot afford to pay the permit charges’. It is not enough to make parking free for just blue badge holders and carers. Many people fall outside of these categories, but would still be unable to afford the charges. 70% of households in my parking zone have an income below the national average.

These proposals would wipe out almost four years of the Council Tax freeze and equate to a 9.8% rise in Council Tax for Band B households. While the Council Tax is levied with some proportionality to a household’s ability to pay, the parking permit charges are levied at a fixed value, with poorer households being expected to pay exactly the same as wealthy households. This would not be a fair and appropriate response to the central government’s policy of freezing the council tax.

As for the impact on those unable to afford the permits, the nearest off-road parking is a long way from my zone making it completely inappropriate for residents and visitors who are elderly, have children, have disabilities and limitations not covered by the blue badge scheme etc. It could also be damaging to residents who run a business from home. These charges have the potential to restrict people’s lives and damage the community. Hilary Benn MP emailed me to say he thought these were strong points and that he hoped Leeds City Council would take them on board.

I therefore ask Leeds City Council to drop the proposals on the basis of their disproportionate impact on poorer households and the negative impact they are likely to have through restricting people’s lives and damaging local communities.

Challenge 3: Leeds City Council’s consultation on the parking permit charging proposals was significantly flawed.

I wrote to Leeds City Council on 20th August 2013 to challenge the validity of the consultation which Leeds City Council sent to residents on 11th July 2013 on the following grounds:

The consultation letter strongly implied that there were substantial ongoing costs associated with running the parking permit scheme, e.g. “Since 1982 the Council has had to bear the significant cost of implementing these zones. It costs £250 per space to put residential parking zones in place and there are annual costs for re-lining and the replacement of damaged signage” and that introducing charges for permits would equate to a saving against LCC spend, i.e. “Leeds City Council must save £54.9 million in the next financial year…” and “…we know the introduction of charges for any service previously provided for free is likely to be a difficult one…” However, LCC’s response to FOI 10262 shows that:

  • The ‘£250 per space’ figure was a one-off cost and is therefore irrelevant to residents in my zone where the scheme has been in place for many years. Putting this figure in the letter could have led people into thinking the scheme incurs significant costs every year. The FOI response also confirmed the costs were actually £230 when the scheme was put in place, not £250.
  • There are no “annual costs for re-lining and the replacement of damaged signage” in my zone. The last time LCC incurred any costs in my zone was in 2008 when £47.25 was spent on sign maintenance and £58.13 on lining maintenance.
  • It is likely to cost substantially more to remove the scheme than to leave the scheme in place. The FOI response states there would be decommissioning costs associated with the removal of poles, signs, lining and traffic management, and in legal fees to revoke the existing legal order. The FOI response stated, “The cost to revoke such a Traffic Regulation Order can vary greatly and depends on the size and scale of the area in question… the cost to remove such a scheme can often be as expensive as its introduction.” This suggests it could cost up to £250 per space to remove the scheme should a majority of residents decide they cannot afford to pay permit charges.

Therefore, the consultation letter should have:

  • stated the actual cost of the scheme in my zone (£105.38 in the last 6 years)
  • had irrelevant and misleading information such as the £250 figure removed
  • stated the decommissioning costs of the scheme
  • framed the proposals in terms of ‘income generation to offset other LCC costs by charging residents considerably more for a service than the service actually costs’, rather than framing the proposals in terms of ‘savings’.

The Beeston Community Forum copied me in to an email to LCC (on 28/9/13) saying, “…As you will be aware, a resident has developed the case that the consultation process is misleading. The Beeston Community Forum is inclined to agree with the points which he makes and we would welcome your comments.”

I therefore ask Leeds City Council to disregard the results of the July 2013 consultation from the decision-making process.

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