The Campaign must go on : 14 October 2005

There are many people who think this issue should be swept under the carpet. People who object to the charges are accused of “talking Malton (and the rest of Ryedale) down” – as if the public would not notice Ryedale’s charges were so high, unless someone draws it to their attention.

Frankly, I don’t think the public are so stupid or ignorant, and in any event, this argument does not apply to recent events in Ryedale. My Residents Group protested against the 20% fees increase during well published debates on the budget in February and March. As I understand, local business was not affected by our well publicised comments. In fact, as I understand, there was no perceptible downturn in trade until May - after the charges had been increased. After the February and March budget meetings, the Residents Group did not bring the matter up again until July, when we found out from a committee report that there was a budget surplus of 261,000. By that time, the increase in car parking fees was clearly having an adverse effect on trade. So the damage had already been done before the current debate began.

It’s a “Catch 22” situation isn’t it? If you let an issue like this go unchallenged, you watch people suffer in silence: if you make an issue of it, you are accused of being the harbinger of the doom and destruction you seek to save people from.

So, the Council has said it will freeze car park charges for the rest of this Council’s life – which means until April 2007. Of course, if one accepts that the charges are too high, freezing them at an extortionate figure is hardly going to help business.

This is not the first time the Council has made promises. Before the Foot and Mouth Outbreak, it was decided to make a trial of making parking in Wentworth Street Car Park free. However, after the start of the foot and mouth epidemic, it was decided that it would not be appropriate to proceed with this during the epidemic. When the outbreak was over, the trial was never implemented. Later, in March 2004, I proposed that car parking charges in Wentworth Street Car Park should be halved – to encourage people to use it as a long term car park. My proposal was rejected and a working party was set up. I am still waiting to see the outcome of the working party’s deliberations.

They Council say they will consider a report on car parking generally in December. However, it is unlikely that any changes recommended will be brought into effect until April 1st 2006. There is also a rumour that the Council might discuss introducing charges at St Nicholas Street Car Park in Norton. What is almost certain is that the Council will not be advised to reduce its overall income from Council car parks. I’d love to be proved wrong, but don’t hold your breath!

Then there is the argument about numbers. If the car parks are full and it is difficult or impossible to find parking spaces, it is suggested that the charges are at an acceptable level, as the shoppers are not being driven away. If, on the other hand, there are a lot of available spaces, it is suggested that this is good for shoppers, as they will always find room to park when they’re doing their shopping. Another “Catch 22” situation, which, of course, takes no account of the actual impact of car park charges on trade.

Then there are the obvious “Red Herring”.

It has been said that there is a need to spend money on the Hornby Region, because of the recent floods. So far I have no problem. However, when it is suggested that the Hornby money should come out of the Council’s 8.7M Reserves, we are told that the interest from these reserves are used to support the Council’s Revenue Budget, and so any reduction of the capital fund will result in a Council Tax increase. Well some of the interest is used to support the Council’s Revenue Budget – about 25% of the total net annual interest. The rest is reinvested or used to supplement the Council’s capital funds. So, the money needed for Hornby could quite easily come out of Reserves without any adverse effect on the Council Tax – and in any event, most of that money will most likely be reclaimed from central government, as has happened in the past.

Quite frankly it does seem somewhat perverse, if not pathetic, to use public sympathy for the victims of the floods as an excuse to justify the ruin of the businesses in our towns.

Then there is the red herring about the FitzWilliam Estate reviewing the Council’s rent on the Market Square car park they lease to the Council. The Estate has commented on this, and there is no point in repeating their comments. It just seems to be a pity that the car parks in Malton are controlled by the District Council in the first place. How much better the matter might be if each market town were to take over the running of their own Car Parks.

Finally there is the red herring about discs and permits. Steven Shaw’s article some weeks ago deals with this and does not need repeating.

I have heard all these arguments and seen what has been written on some of them. None of them have any weight, and all they do is to confuse people and act as a smokescreen to hide a very simple issue, which is this. At the meetings which set this year’s budget, members were told that car park charges had to be increased by 20% to raise 171,000 to balance the Council’s budget. In July, members were told that there was a budget surplus of 261,000. If, when members were setting the budget, they had known of this surplus, there would have been no need for the 20% increase in charges – and the increase currently in force would never have been made.

The arguments used to justify the retention of the 20% charge increase are not the same as those used to justify its imposition in the first place.

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