Wirral’s car parking solution fails to find agreement

Wirral has a problem with car parking at its beauty spots and high street shopping locations.

The problem is simple, though the solution is highly complex.

The problem is that the free and charged council-run car parks and on-street parking cost more to operate than the cash they generate from parking fees. In order to maintain the car parks, the council has to divert money from other areas, leaving shortfalls elsewhere.

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.

Last night, the Decision Review Committee sat and put forward their proposals to implement the request to increase and extend parking charges. Members of the public made statements and the committee was questioned by councillors.

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.

There were two main sticking points that were explained by Wirral residents and councillors.

  1. The displacement of cars parking into nearby residential areas as drivers seek to avoid paying for parking.
  2. The negative effect – i.e., a reduction in the numbers of shoppers – to high street shops, due to the introduction of parking charges.

These may seem to be contradictory. Either people are assumed to be prepared to walk a further distance from parking their cars in nearby residential streets to their shopping or leisure destinations, or they are not prepared to walk further, leading to a reduction in the number of shoppers.

However, these concerns come from two distinct perspectives; that of residents and that of business owners who each have their own take on the introduction of parking charges, but each agree that they are against the proposal.

It must be said that neither residents nor business owners nor councillors provided any peer-reviewed statistical evidence to back up their assertions, relying only on anecdotal claims. The failure to provide evidence does not, however, negate their right to disagree with the introduction of parking charges.

One thing is clear. Since 2010, as with other local councils, Wirral has seen a shortfall in central government funding, In Wirral’s case, the shortfall has been a staggering £222m over the last 11 years.

This shortfall can only be covered in part by an increase in revenue, for example, by increasing council tax, or introducing car parking charges, or by a reduction in services, for example the closure of leisure centres, axing lollipop men and women, selling off our golf land, closing the Williamson Art Gallery, closing public toilets, and compulsory redundancies.

Conservative Group Leader, Tom Anderson, proposed the selling of council assets to cover the shortfall and suggested selling the Birkenhead Market building as an example. However, Cllr Grey said that this would only cover the parking shortfall for a limited period and that the shortfall in balancing the cost of parking required a long-term, sustainable solution as required by external council auditors. Further, the sale of Birkenhead Market would seriously jeopardise the tens of millions of pounds of grants secured for the much-needed regeneration of Birkenhead town centre.

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.

At last night’s emotive committee meeting, which ran from 6pm to about 11:30pm, there were strongly held views on all sides, but due to time constraints, no final decision was reached and the meeting was adjourned.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors must now propose revisions or alternatives to the Labour and Green proposals on making car parking self-sustaining.

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.

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