Wirral has a problem with car parking at its tourist destinations, beauty spots and high street shopping locations.
The problem is that council-run car parks and on-street parking cost more to operate than the revenue they generate from parking fees. In order to maintain the car parks, the council has to divert money from other areas, leaving shortfalls elsewhere, such as libraries and parks.
Earlier this year, all parties agreed to standardise car parking fees across the borough, including introducing fees to previously free council managed car parks.
The Environment, Climate Emergency and Transport Committee (ECET) was tasked with raising £1 million by making the car parking self-sustaining. Their brief from Full Council, which included all political parties voting unanimously, was plain; “to increase and extend parking charges.”
However, the proposal was ‘called in’ with councillors stating that there wasn’t enough information available for them to continue to support it. When a proposal is ‘called in’, previous agreements are postponed and the proposal is put forward to committee for further discussion.
On 29 July, the Decision Review Committee sat and put forward their proposals to implement the request to increase and extend parking charges. Cllr Liz Grey, Chair of the ECET Committee, and Cllr Christopher Cooke, Vice-Chair of the ECET Committee put forward their plans for scrutiny. Their plan fulfilled the cross-party Full Council brief “to increase and extend parking charges”, but despite this, the proposals met with opposition from some councillors who were now voting against their earlier decision.
The Decision Review Committee meeting was adjourned until last night, Tuesday 10 August. At this meeting, councillors voted seven to four to introduce new charges and to standardise parking fees across the council’s car parks. The seven who voted for the changes were five Labour councillors, one Green and one Liberal Democrat councillor. The four who voted against the changes that would mean that car parks would no longer be subsidised by money that could be spent on parks and libraries were all Conservative councillors.
Cllr Grey said, “Parking is not free. Much of the money to maintain car parks and surrounding infrastructure currently comes from other budgets, budgets that pay for our leisure centres, our public toilets, our golf land, our art gallery and our lollipop men and women.
“These are under pressure now and that can be reduced by making car parking pay for itself – at rates that are still well below our neighbouring local authorities.
“Not everyone uses our car park spaces and why should they subsidise them by having other services they need taken away? This is a matter of social justice.”
Cllr Grey continued, “Let’s not risk our legal balanced budget. Let’s not risk bankruptcy and our services and assets. Let’s not break our budget agreements. Let’s show some leadership and give our residents what they asked for in the budget consultation.”
Conservative councillor Simon Mountney claimed that a council report stated that small businesses would see a 30% reduction in footfall should the new parking charges be introduced. However, the Green group leader, Cllr Pat Cleary said that the report went on to say that this would only be a temporary drop in footfall and would recover over a 12-month period.
The vote means that the decision on car parking charges can now be implemented in terms of standardising existing charges as soon as is practically possible.
Any new charges where parking is currently free need to have a consultation and so will take many months ( possibly up to 9) but will still go ahead. This was always part of the budget plan. Consultation can only help shape them, rather than veto them, as this is a budget decision that has been voted on a number of times now.
ECET will discuss and vote on the finer details after consultation.
Standardised charges will be £1 first hour, £2 second hour, £3 third hour, £4 fourth hour up to a maximum of £5 for a day and same in all areas. So revenue can start coming in from this very soon in areas with existing charges.
Legally, car parking charges can not be used for raising revenue, any surplus monies raised can only be reinvested back into car parking administration and infrastructure, which includes the car park land itself, and signage and repairs to nearby roads due to increased traffic on them from cars using the car parks. In some cases, it can be used for environmental improvements and road safety measures, as well as improvements to public transport.
Making car parking self-sustainable appears to be the obvious solution, rather than subsidising car parking from money that could be used for more urgent or important requirements and all councillors from all parties are in an unenviable position with some hard decisions to be made.