Sunday 31 January 2016

UPDATE: Brent Visitor Parking Debacle - Duffy does it again!

I understand that Cllr John Duffy, who last year claimed he stepped in to stop a flawed policy that would let Veolia pocket large sums in the multi million Public Realm contract, LINK, has now intervened on the Visitor Car Parking  consultation which at the very least would have left Brent Council with egg all over its face.

He was not popular with the Council leadership over the Veolia affair, claiming that they snubbed him for acting on behalf of residents, but this time his colleagues are admitting that he has a point. 

Sources in the Labour Group say  Duffy appealed to Carolyn Downes, Chief Executive, over a report that according to him had flaws that 'are devastating and have damaged our case of proving our competency. The costing variations were all over the place and the report itself quotes the obvious and often contradicts itself.'

The flaws had not been picked up by the Cabinet, other Labour councillors or the Opposition., although Scrutiny Committeee submitted comments. Cllr Duffy told the Labour Group, 'We should be concerned about is how such a bad report was given wings by the Cabinet and was only stopped at the last minute.'

The Cabinet Minutes November 16th 2015 Item 11 can be found HERE
Apparently Cllr Southwood, lead member for the Environment, defended the report up to the last minute before being forced to withdraw it.

Making the best of a bad job she wrote to all Labour Councillors:

Dear Colleagues

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the proposals in front of Cabinet to increase visitor parking charges to address pressures on parking spaces across the borough. 

As with any proposed increase in charges this has been a contested and hotly debated subject. 
I have listened to many views, spoken to many residents, consulted with officers, looked at best practice elsewhere and of course heard from Labour Group colleagues.

I have been struck by the complexity of the issues and the many differing needs and requirements that we are trying to balance. We are fortunate in having two strategies which are a good foundation for our discussions: the Parking Strategy and the recently agreed Long Term Transport Strategy and aligning our actions with these will help to deliver our vision for a better borough for residents. 

I have come to the view that the visitor parking charges proposal needs to be set in the context of a wider review of our parking offer. Current arrangements have been developed over time in response to circumstances and events and whilst our policies are sound, they are also complex and not easily understood. I believe that we will get a better, and fairer outcome for local people, their visitors and local businesses if we look at the wider parking offer at the same time as the visitor parking permits. 

Our parking offer was already planned for review. I am now proposing to accelerate this work so that we can take a more holistic decision and have a really meaningful dialogue with residents about the best solutions. I will therefore delay the consultation on visitor permit parking charges until this wider work has been completed and intend to bring a report to March's cabinet.  

I'm sure you will agree that it is important that we get the strategy and policies right. I will, of course, arrange a session for Labour Group members to shape the proposals and I hope that you will be able to participate.

Thank you to everyone who has shared their views so far. Your continued support and involvement will ensure we get the right outcomes for residents, visitors and businesses.
I am, of course, very happy to meet with any of you to discuss this further.
 It is to be hoped that the 'wider work' will be thoroughly researched and costed and that this time it won't be left to Cllr Duffy to blow the whistle. Meanwhile perhaps he is owed some dulia by his colleagues.

Since publication I have been sent this comment  (Feb 4th)  which was  longer than the word limit in the usual comment box.

"All credit to Cllr John Duffy for his part in causing a rethink on the planned increase in visitor parking charges and to Cllr Ellie Southwood for being big enough to respond to reasoned concerns from affected residents. However Queen's Park Area Residents Association also held a session with Cllr Southwood and officials on these proposals and on 24 January wrote:

Dear Councillors and Officers,

QPARA discussed the Cabinet report on proposed increase in visitor parking charges at its January meeting, and this prompted a wider review of local parking congestion. The association would like following perspectives to be considered before final consultation on increased charges.

QPARA supports a general policy direction of increasing reliance on public transport, cycling and walking rather than on private cars, for environmental and public health reasons. Nevertheless there needs to be a balance between this and the very large proposed increases in daily charges for visitor parking. While there may be a case for a modest increase QPARA is concerned at the scale of this from £1.50 to £4.50. Charges are almost invariably paid by residents not visitors and the percentage increase is well beyond inflation. As an example a resident with 30 daily visitors a year will in future pay £135 for visitors rather than the current £45. This will be a particular pressure on residents on lower incomes.

The Council's case for the increase centres on high demand for parking in Controlled Parking Zones which leads to overcrowding, and that 'evidence also suggests that some households are using daily visitor permits to book parking on behalf of commuters'. However, we note that there is no general study of why parking overcrowding occurs in particular zones, and no attempt is made in the Cabinet report to form proposals for a wider range of solutions which could address this, nor its more general environmental impact. In the absence of this the Council identifies only one solution which will have at best a modest impact on overcrowding and is associated with an assumed increase in income of £795,000 in 2016/17 (para 6.1 of the report). It is hard to avoid a conclusion that this increase is driven more by the Council's need to increase income substantially rather than resolve overall parking congestion issues.

Accordingly QPARA proposes that Brent conducts a wider study of the impact of a range of factors leading to overcrowding within the ward before proceeding with such large increases. This study should include parking related to schools, business parking permits, under-used car club bays, bays used for builders' materials, and patchy parking enforcement (better enforcement alone could increase the Council's income substantially). For example the teacher permit regime is full of anomalies, with permits given to schools as a prize for having gold travel plans, without regard to pressure points in the overall parking system nor the impact on residents. Notwithstanding, if permits are awarded, these could at least be restricted to a nominated street only, such as by the Park away from streets which are 'parking congested.' Members have also commented that even small businesses can have three permits, and it would be straightforward to limit these to perhaps one to help address overcrowding, yet the Report does not explore this.

In a summary document the Council advises that 'for many visitors who need to park for only a short time, the availability of pay and display bays may better meet their needs than pre-booking a visitor permit' and refers to charges of £1 for 30 minutes or £2 for up to an hour when booked by mobile phone. This suggestion does not take account of the lack of availability of pay and display bays in large parts of QPARA's area, which is mainly residential, so this is not a solution for many (or most) residents. Moreover, where such bays do exist near to busy shopping areas they are often fully occupied and cannot be relied on. So while a partial solution may lie in creating more P & D or mixed use bays, and could be pursued, this is clearly only possible in streets where there is spare capacity.

The summary document refers also to the option of purchasing an annual visitor household permit for £110 (to increase to £165 during 2016). It does not make clear that the Council's Cabinet decided in 2012 to withdraw these permits, and while this is on hold because the Adult Social Care department has yet to find capacity to determine a resident's eligibility for a proposed 'cared-for' permit, it remains policy. While this annual permit may be an option for the present it does not provide a solution in the longer term.

Considering the range of proposed daily visitor charges from £3 to £4.50, many residents have commented that there needs to be a lower charge than £3 for shorter stays than 3 hours (a frequent requirement). Where meters are available (and if unoccupied) then these provide some solution, but as above these simply do not exist in large parts of QPARA's area. We propose therefore that a charge of £1.50 for visitor parking in residents' bays be retained for short stays of up to an hour, to provide equity for QPARA residents with parts of the borough where meters are more generally available.


Rik said...

I must confess, I can't see above or read in the links the flaw which Duff has highlighted. What was it?!

Much like a difficult pluzzle, I'm keen to hear what the answer was which torpedoed the dodgy report!

Martin Francis said...

I haven;t spoken to John Duffy himeself about this but I understand that the data was admitted to be unreliable and all options had not been presented, making the proposed consultation itself faulty and subject to challenge. Certainly enough for the unusual step of pulling a report AFTER it had been approved by Cabinet to be taken. I suggest you email Cllr Duffy and ask him for detail (Councillor contacts are on side panel)

Anonymous said...

Come on Duffy, update your blog!

Nan. said...

That was my first thought but there again, saving Brent Council from its own chronic incompetence is actually a full-time job.....

Well spotted, Cllr Duffy!

Rik said...

The QPARA remarks are the bullet that hit to the heart of this issue. Well done to Janis, Peter and Team for such a balanced response.

Credit to QPARA... More than anyone else