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Parking Charges - Locals Vote to Increase Town Council Precept

Friday 27 January 2012, 15:28
By Jane Richmond

A meeting was advertised to discuss the proposed introduction of parking charges in Wincanton, to take place in the conference room at the Council Offices in Churchfields at 4.30pm on 25 January 2012, chaired by Colin Winder, Mayor of Wincanton and District Councillor. In spite of the fact that for some (unspecified) reason the meeting was called for a time when many concerned people would be unable to attend, the room was packed to the doors with probably 150 people from Wincanton and beyond, to the apparent surprise of the chairman.

The Town Clerk, Mrs. Sam Skirton, passed round copies of a sheet showing the proposed charges to be levied, from 60p for an hour to £1.60 per day, and a season ticket at £40.00. The alternative method suggested by the SSDC was for the Town Council's precept rate to be increased by £12.00 per household, which would raise £24,000 for the District Council and allow the town car parks to remain free of charge.

There then followed a heated discussion, with many questions - and interruptions - from the floor.

Colin Winder described SSDC's policy as 'stuff Wincanton', and many agreed that profit raised from the town was largely for the benefit of Yeovil or more widely across the district at a time of cuts, with a Government freeze on District and Council rate rises. He was asked how much was actually spent by the District Council on specifically Wincanton projects, but said that he did not know other than for the Balsam Centre. Sam Skirton quoted the legal justification from the District Council for charging either the public or the Town Council for the use of its car parks.

A show of hands indicating a preference for the £12.00 annual levy rather than a charge for parking was so totally overwhelming that - perhaps unfortunately - no count was taken of the handful who might have opposed it.

Colin Winder stated that he was in favour of seeking legal advice on the possibility of initiating a judicial review, to determine whether or not it was legal for a council to spend its 'profits' from car parking charges on projects unrelated to traffic management; he said that he would even consider spending part of his mayoral allowance - intended normally for local charities - on employing a lawyer to advise the Town Council on this.

There were many questions on various points more or less relative to the subject; but it was unfortunate that Sam Skirton, who obviously had the facts at her fingertips, was not always audible in such a packed and, at times, unruly meeting. A final suggestion from the floor that what everybody really minded about was not in fact the car parking charges but the future of our High Street, was met by loud applause.

Afterwards it became apparent that people at the front of the meeting were putting their names to a sheet indicating how they had voted, but this was not announced and many were unaware of it and had already left.




Comments

Victor Meldrew
Posts: 2
Comment
Re: Parking Charges - Locals Vote to Increase Town Council Precept
Reply #1 on : Sat January 28, 2012, 16:19:22
I wonder if the Council employee (reported £90k)who is behind this outrageous plan attended? I doubt it.I am astounded thgat the only alternative was fro the Town to pay via the Precept/Council Tax, when at least the Memorial Hall carpark is part Town Council owned! If they are that desperate for money, then I would propose a massive pay cut for these alleged executives. Mr Winder take note, as a District Councillor YOU are in charge are you not?
johnsmith
Posts: 4
Comment
Parking Charges
Reply #2 on : Sat January 28, 2012, 21:20:37
Victor, the fact that the District Council employee is on a rather generous salary has nothing to do with it. This person is only a mouth piece for the Elected Body who devised and had the plan activated. The clue is in your own words "Council Employee". This SSDC employee was simply doing her job, and whilst I dissagree 200% with this totally immoral policy for Wincanton and Castle Cary, it serves no purpose whatsoever for peoploe to start slagging off individuals.

A whole bunch of us will agree that SSDC spending seems to be dubious in nature, and that Wincanton does not get a fair shake compared to Yeovil (Clearly the centre of the known universe). However, in the interests of trying to promote positive action and trying to get a fairer deal for our great town I appeal to your better nature, and to all others who seem to enjoy personalising this issue, to take a good few steps back and lets concentrate on the real facts. That way we can accomplish more.

Having been in corresponmdence with the said Council Employee since before Christmas, and having been in cooperation with our Town Council both at the meeting with SSDC, and at the public meeting I can assure you that Our Mayor and Town Councillors have conducted themselves admirably. They have done everything in their power to defend us against this ridiculous intrusion into the daily life of our town. So please don't start to criticise them. In this issue I have nothing but admiration for them. They are a genuine bunch of volunteers standing up against what seems to be unsurmountable odds. They deserve our whole hearted support and thanks for the way that they have pulled this together with such short notice.

Wincanton is once again being royaly shafted by SSDC. Not any SSDC employee. SSDC policy makers. Wincanton Town Council did the right thing in pulling together a good public meeting.

Considering the very limited options (wholly biased to raising revinue for SSDC) on the table, our Town Council took the only decision that was right for our town. The people who attended gave the Town Council permission to negotiate with SSDC to add a sum onto the Town Precept so that Pay and Display meters will not be a part of our town. Yes we pay for parking. Yes we are taxed by stealth, so that SSDC can plug at least part of a hole in their crazy budget. But at least shoppers and visitors to Wincanton won't have to feed meters in car parks.

The Town Council are also allowed to do research towards a possible judicial review, if there is enough evidence to prove the SSDC is breaking the law in what they are doing.

So in the meantime I suggest that we all do what is best for this town.

1 - We all need to start telling everyone we know that Wincanton is a great town, with great people, great businesses, and unique and interesting shopping. There seems to be a small minority who feel much happier slagging the town, and Town Council off. To that minority I suggest that if they are not happy, they should seriously consider moving to another town where they will obviously be happier, and leave all the rest of us to bask in our missguided praise of Wincanton and it's Town Council. Life is hard enough without shooting ourselves in the foot.

2 - I would encourage all residents and business people to help by submitting positive suggestions to the Town Council and WBT that would help us all to further enhance Wincanton.

3 - We are currently in the middle of a deep recession. We need ideas to help our local economy, not just to survive the current crisis, but to grow and flourish.

So lets try for once to stop opening ,mouths and filling the air with negative rubbish, and start talking positive about this town of ours.

I have the greatest respect for anyone who brings honest or genuine constructive criticism, but I am getting totally hacked doff with folks who open their mouths and let their bellies rumble. It serves no positive purpose. If we can't even criticise with a view to a positive end result it would be better if we keep our mouths firmly closed. We need positive input. Let's have some good constructive input.
Penny Ashton
Posts: 1
Comment
Parking Charges - Bite the Bullet!
Reply #3 on : Sun January 29, 2012, 20:21:02
Unfortunately I was not able to come to the meeting last Wednesday due to being at work and so I have had to rely on what I have read in the Window, the press and the accounts of those who did attend for my information.
I feel the issue of paying for car parking in Wincanton is one that was bound to catch up with us eventually – I don’t see it as a party political issue as it seems to me that all the local authorities around us of a variety of political hues are doing this. On balance I think that SSDC is asking us for a very small increase in our precept rate at a time when we know they have to make considerable cuts. Like all local authorities they are faced with a very tight budget and statutory obligations to meet that do not get any cheaper. I cannot agree that Wincanton is being short changed by SSDC bearing in mind their support to the Sports Centre, the Balsam Centre, the Moor Lane sports grounds and the skateboard park. I find it hard to believe that Colin Winder says he does not know what they spend it on here as a majority of the people elected him to the District Council to keep on top of just that.
It is probable that like virtually every council in the country SSDC are using parking charges to cover costs and raise some revenue, but I would be very surprised if they were all acting illegally. Anyone who has to travelled around our area will know that Salisbury, Gillingham, Shaftesbury, Frome and Sherborne (to name but a few) charge more for parking than the towns in South Somerset, and I know of nowhere else that is making the small market towns an opt out offer so that we can include this in the Town Council precept rather than introduce Pay and Display machines to our car parks, and I am sure this is because SSDC recognises that parking charges are a threat to our High Street traders. At the same time they need to be equitable across the District or other towns who are already paying for their car parking will object vehemently to subsidising Wincanton – and who could blame them!
Therefore, along with the “overwhelming majority” who voted at the meeting, I agree that the Town Council should negotiate to accept the increased precept rate but, of course, aim to keep it as low as possible. Yes – I would rather keep our car parks free without this charge but sometimes we need to bow to the inevitable – we have been luckier than many for a long time. If I have to, I can live with paying an extra £1 per month in order to keep our free car parks and encourage visitors to our town.
johnsmith
Posts: 4
Comment
Parking Charges
Reply #4 on : Tue January 31, 2012, 11:05:47
Considering the complete lack of time to arrange it I would like to thank the Town Council. This topic is clearly a sensitive one for many people, and not just the business community. To see the Chamber packed out at such notice shows us the some people do care. I can also confirm that I had a good number of e-mails from concerned people who were unable to attend.

I also want to thank The Window for being such a great forum for Wincanton. They provide an excellent platform for people to put out their thoughts and views. Long may this continue? I hope that more and more people will take courage and start sending articles and put in comments. This is a great place to gauge the temperature of our town and what goes on.

Yes the issue of parking charges would probably land at our doorstep eventually under the current approach of local government. That said, why is it that across the pond you don’t pay for parking? Because they have realised that to have free parking brings business to town and promotes a healthy local economy and community. Why can’t our local government see that one?

It is definitely not a party political issue. It’s just a shame that District Council upwards are the elected bodies, and they are party political with their agendas. So when we criticise them in any w ay in this District it is seen as LibDem bashing. I have no doubts that if we were Tory controlled we would be seen as Tory bashing. Sadly, whilst party politics can have a healthy side to it, this same party politics is all too often guilty of blurring and messing up issues in the name of keeping the party agenda to the front, safe and secure. IO cite Cameron and Clegg putting party politics behind them for the good of the Nation (Well trying), whilst behind the scene they both suffer at the hands of their own parties complaining that they are giving away too much, or not getting enough. What good does that serve at national level, and even down here at District level? Fewer and fewer people care, evidenced by bad poll turnouts al local elections.

Penny is correct in one way that £12 per annum doesn’t seem a lot to create the illusion of free parking. It may not be a lot in the average household budget. However from the Town Council position this means increasing the Town Precept by circa 16% against the current figure of £154,000 for the year 2011/12. That means that they have to increase the town budget by 16% to cover parking. That is one crazy percentage.

Yes all District and County Councils are suffering with gaping black holes in their budgets, so they need to stop spending money at the same rate as they still do. This is common sense. When your household budget gets squeezed or severely limited you cut your cloth to your income. You very quickly realise that you have been spending money on services or products that you can go without until you either get a raise or a better job with a better salary. The only alternative is to go out and crash your card limit, or borrow money from shark lenders. You know where that leads don’t you? Bankruptcy. A black mark against your credit. Look to Europe, and the mess they are in because they didn’t know how to spend wisely.

SSDC like any other Council needs to stop for a moment and look at their spending. They need to look at their priorities and re-assess. When that has been done they need to take some tuff decisions that may well affect all of us in ways we don’t like. The one thing they can’t do is keep spending money that they don’t have. That will affect us all more. At the moment all that is happening is that SSDC, and other Councils see their current spending plans under threat, and they are taking the easy way out. In our case we are being forced to increase the Town Precept. In other cases Councils are breaking ranks and increasing rates.

Where in any of this is the open, honest government that the people of this district and nation deserve, never mind want?
My gripe is not particularly that we are increasing the Town Precept to pay for parking. My gripe is that we are being forced into this situation by a District Council who doesn’t seem to have the simple decency to discuss this in an open manner. Everything that has been said and done to this point has been solely to action the agenda set up by the elected body. Even the meeting attended by Vega Sturgess was a waste of time because Vega, nice as she is, did not have any authority to discuss with our Town Council any solutions other that those proposed by SSDC. In short “SSDC wants £24,000 per annum for the next three years. How do you want to pay it?”

Now that’s what I call open and honest discussion, to find a solution to a problem that Wincanton doesn’t have. Clearly SSDC care passionately about this fair town called Wincanton (NOT).
Victor Meldrew
Posts: 2
Comment
Re: Parking Charges - Locals Vote to Increase Town Council Precept
Reply #5 on : Thu February 02, 2012, 16:54:12
John, I was asking a question based on information recieved about the conduct of individuals on several projects in Yeovil. Nothing has been said that these charges are the idea of the Elected body, of which we have two members. So I, and no doubt others. would love to know when this was on the SSDC agenda and exactly what the vote was. You go on to say we need to be positive about Wincanton, well I agree, but there are empty premises in town, so what is being done to get thm filled? I do not think that the `Regeneration` department in SSDC really cares about us, as the last contact I know about with them told me they knew very little about this area, so it may be the mindset of SSDC that is the problem but it is the faceless employees that we hear about.
johnsmith
Posts: 4
Comment
Parking Charges
Reply #6 on : Tue February 07, 2012, 10:09:16
Hi Victor
I have to say that I agree with you more than dissagree on this one. I need to be clear though. WBT is pleased to work very closely, and very well with the SSDC rural regeneration team, Pam and Mike. Their input over the years has been excellent, and enabled us to make progress that would have been almost impossible without their help.

When I took on chair of WBT I set out my table by saying that instead of complaining and being destructive of our local Councils, we would always strive to work with them. I believe that this has worked well in our local area.

However, I have grave reservations about the attitude that the SSDC, and County elected bodies have about our Town. Yes we have two local District Councillors, and one Cpounty Councillor who do their best to keep us informed. But beyond that we get little other than cast offs from SSDC and County.

The perception is that Wincanton is at the very least a backwater community, or in extreme cases I think they are under the impression that Wincanton is in either Dorset or Wiltshire.

In the current situation with "Parking Charges", I have no doubt that of the options forced on our Town Council by SSDC (elected body), the only sensible option is to add the £24,000 to the Town Precept. At least this means that we don't have the hassle of having to feed meters. Meters would seriously damage our High Street businesses, and add to the home budget of all residents who want to support their High Street traders.

I have attracted a lot of flack on this one because I have gone to great lengths to make sure that everyone understands that the vote was not for "Parking Charges or No Parking Charges". If you look at the vote it was for "Parcking Charges by Pay & Display Meter" or "Parking Charges via Town Precept".

I believe that the result of the vote was the right answer given the choices available, and I hope that the Town Council meeting on Monday 13th confirms this. If the Council rejects this option I tend to agree with John Baxter, that the end result would be both Pay & Display meters in the car parks, Residents Parking Permits, and On-Street Parking Meters". This would be the most damaging solution of all.

So on Monday 13th I will be encouraging the Town Council to negotiate hard with SSDC to get the £18,000 (very generous concession for the fist year by SSDC) reduced. Please remember that this figure will only ever increase with inflation, and as and when SSDC need more money.

The only gripe I have (and I stress that I am speakign personally now) is that in all of this there have been no open and transparent discussions. Nobody came to any table with no preconcieved agenda. Every meeting (only one that I am aware of) was conducted with one single agenda. SSDC wanted £24,000 per annum more from Wincanton under the pretext of maintaining our three car parks. How would Wincanton like to pay it. That was the only meeting. Our Town Council were shoved unceremoniously into a corner by SSDC who knew full well that our Town Council only ever had one sensible option, and that was to choose the payment method that caused the least damage to our town. In this Our Town Council has done their very best and should be congratulated and supported by us all.

As for SSDC (The elected body), they should be ashamed at the unprofessional way that they have handled this. I was told the other day that SSDC is one of the top three District Councils in the UK, as judged by an independent body. Really? What do you think? I wonder what criteria was used to give that assessment?
johnsmith
Posts: 4
Comment
Parking Charges
Reply #7 on : Tue February 07, 2012, 10:27:07
Hi Victor
I have to say that I agree with you more than disagree on this one. I need to be clear though. WBT is pleased to work very closely and very well with the SSDC rural regeneration team, Pam and Mike. Their input over the years has been excellent, and enabled us to make progress that would have been almost impossible without their help.

When I took on chair of WBT I set out my table by saying that instead of complaining and being destructive of our local Councils, we would always strive to work with them. I believe that this has worked well in our local area.

However, I have grave reservations about the attitude that the SSDC, and County elected bodies have about our Town. Yes we have two local District Councillors, and one County Councillor who do their best to keep us informed. But beyond that we get little other than cast offs from SSDC and County.

The perception is that Wincanton is at the very least a backwater community, or in extreme cases I think they are under the impression that Wincanton is in either Dorset or Wiltshire.

In the current situation with "Parking Charges", I have no doubt that of the options forced on our Town Council by SSDC (elected body); the only sensible option is to add the £24,000 to the Town Precept. At least this means that we don't have the hassle of having to feed meters. Meters would seriously damage our High Street businesses, and add to the home budget of all residents who want to support their High Street traders.

I have attracted a lot of flak on this one because I have gone to great lengths to make sure that everyone understands that the vote was not for "Parking Charges or No Parking Charges". If you look at the vote it was for "Parking Charges by Pay & Display Meter" or "Parking Charges via Town Precept".

I believe that the result of the vote was the right answer given the choices available, and I hope that the Town Council meeting on Monday 13th confirms this. If the Council rejects this option I tend to agree with John Baxter, that the end result would be both Pay & Display meters in the car parks, Residents Parking Permits, and On-Street Parking Meters". This would be the most damaging solution of all.

So on Monday 13th I will be encouraging the Town Council to negotiate hard with SSDC to get the £18,000 (very generous concession for the first year by SSDC) reduced. Please remember that this figure will only ever increase with inflation, and as and when SSDC need more money.

The only gripe I have (and I stress that I am speaking personally now) is that in all of this there have been no open and transparent discussions. Nobody came to any table with no preconceived agenda. Every meeting (only one that I am aware of) was conducted with one single agenda. SSDC wanted £24,000 per annum more from Wincanton under the pretext of maintaining our three car parks. How would Wincanton like to pay it? That was the only meeting. Our Town Council were shoved unceremoniously into a corner by SSDC who knew full well that our Town Council only ever had one sensible option, and that was to choose the payment method that caused the least damage to our town. In this Our Town Council has done their very best and should be congratulated and supported by us all.

As for SSDC (The elected body), they should be ashamed at the unprofessional way that they have handled this. I was told the other day that SSDC is one of the top three District Councils in the UK, as judged by an independent body. Really? What do you think? I wonder what criteria was used to give that assessment.

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