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Thursday, 21 August 2014

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We will refuse to implement parking charge plans, says committee

Campaigners say the fight against on-street parking charges has only just begun after a cross-party challenge failed.

James Airey photo
James Airey

Calls for Cumbria County Council to re-think its decision were yesterday rejected by the authority’s scrutiny board.

But it was revealed that the group responsible for implementing the charges in Eden is refusing to do so.

The decision to introduce on-street parking charges has sparked widespread protests amid claims that town centres could be destroyed.

The council has also been accused of failing to properly consult with the public over the proposals.

Both the Conservatives and Independent groups called in the decision to persuade the county’s key decision-makers to think again.

But, despite the scrutiny board’s decision to endorse the council’s original decision, opponents are vowing to keep up the pressure.

Independent Rob Betton, who represents Botcherby in Carlisle, said: “As far as I’m concerned the battle has only just begun. I will keep fighting to get this decision sent back to the full council.”

New parking meters are set to be introduced in 11 towns across Cumbria, including Carlisle, Penrith, Workington, Whitehaven and Keswick, to meet a £700,000 funding gap.

Trevor Allison, speaking on behalf of the Independent group, told scrutiny members the decision was taken “without understanding or appreciation of” the potential effect on retail”.

“The impact on already fragile town centres could be devastating.”

Mr Allison claimed that in Carlisle, bringing in the new charges would be compounded by the county council’s decision to relocate 1,200 staff from the city centre to Kingmoor Park and Lower Botchergate.

Mr Betton, meanwhile, described the introduction of the parking meters as a “stealth tax”.

He explained: “At a time when full-time, well-paid jobs are very hard to find, this Labour dominated cabinet will actually put at risk the livelihood of many of our constituents.”

James Airey, leader of the opposition Conservative group, insisted that the council does not have a business case to back up the move.

And he claimed that the consultation process was not “robust” enough.

Mr Airey also revealed that the Eden Local Committee is refusing to decide which streets in the district will see the charges brought in and how much the fees will be.

He told cabinet members: “You have got this wrong and I would urge you to look at it again. It’s not as simple as saying ‘we have to do this’ – I have never seen anything like the public feeling against it.”

Mr Airey also raised concerns that other areas in the county could see the charges introduced in future too.

Keith Little, the county council’s cabinet member for highways, insisted that the decision was taken in accordance with all the relevant rules and guidance.

He said that the public were consulted as part of the authority’s budget proposals and rejected suggestions that the majority were against on-street parking charges.

He also claimed that the move would bring benefits to communities – such as freeing up parking spaces and cutting congestion in town centres.

Mr Little added that he was “disappointed” at Eden Local Committee’s decision not to exercise its delegated powers and implement the charges and said the decision “raises big issues”.

Local committees are set to agree which streets will have meters installed, subject to consultation, next month. The charges are then due to be introduced on a trial basis in December.

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