South Somerset's dodgy parking deal

March 07, 2012 3:01 PM

Anger in South Somerset as their District Council (SSDC) is threatening to introduce car parking charges on market towns that have never had charges before—unless the town councils cough up money to compensate them.

‘The District Council are saying the only way the Town Council can keep free parking is to pay the District Council “compensation” for the “profit” they say they would have made, that is, £24,000,’ says district councillor Nick Colbert. ‘At the meeting I attended in Wincanton, the precept for 2010/11 is £154,350—an extra £24,000 would increase the town rates by approximately 15%, which would be passed onto the taxpayer in the form of higher council tax. The money would then have to be handed straight over to the District Council’.

‘The Town Council would be the council that raised the rates and get the blame,’ argues Colbert. ‘The District Council would get the money, still be able to claim they had frozen the District Council portion of the council tax and get their central government 2.5% grant. A very clever way to increase the rates to raise revenue and offset the blame and pushing extra cost onto householders and getting a grant they are not entitled to, can this be legal?'

Despite outrage at this sleight of hand, the District Council has gone ahead. At a meeting on 1st March, the SSDC announced that an agreement had been reached with Wincanton Town Council, saying that ‘the District Executive agrees to accept the offer from Wincanton Town Council of a three-year agreement to compensate SSDC for the loss of budgeted income in the car parks in Wincanton.’

But this is hardly an amicable deal, as Wincanton Town Council’s draft minutes reveal: ‘Councillors commented on the lack of consultation, validity of figures submitted and overall disgust in the way SSDC are blackmailing the Town Council. Council voted that the clerk write to SSDC to express the above. Council voted to oppose any car parking charges and will do all it can to prevent them.’

That the stance taken by the embattled Town Council is the right one is backed by many local residents. ‘Whilst market towns across South Somerset, all similar in size to Wincanton, enjoy free parking, their high streets are relatively active,’ says local TPA supporter Clive Rogers, ‘but once parking charges are imposed, everyone here fears that shoppers will leave for the out of town supermarkets. The Mary Portas High Street recommendations advocate removing parking charges, so why is the District Council threatening to impose them?’

‘To me the warning is clear,’ says Cllr Nick Colbert, ‘Parish and Town councils need to act together to ward off their cash hungry big neighbour who chooses to find ways of levering money from Parish/Town councils. Wincanton’s population mainly walks to the town centre, it is a small market town. It is surrounding people who drive in and use the car parks but SSDC doesn't care about fairness. They just want money, so Wincanton people will have to pay £18,000 in the first year and over £24,000 for the next two years by paying increased rates. If you sympathise with Wincanton Town Council and its population, please let the District Council know and, if your Parish experiences similar monetary demands, please let everyone know.’

If you live in South Somerset and are angry at the District Council’s attitude to parking, let us know too, as we plan to organise an Action Day there soon.Anger in South Somerset as their District Council (SSDC) is threatening to introduce car parking charges on market towns that have never had charges before—unless the town councils cough up money to compensate them.

‘The District Council are saying the only way the Town Council can keep free parking is to pay the District Council “compensation” for the “profit” they say they would have made, that is, £24,000,’ says district councillor Nick Colbert. ‘At the meeting I attended in Wincanton, the precept for 2010/11 is £154,350—an extra £24,000 would increase the town rates by approximately 15%, which would be passed onto the taxpayer in the form of higher council tax. The money would then have to be handed straight over to the District Council’.

‘The Town Council would be the council that raised the rates and get the blame,’ argues Colbert. ‘The District Council would get the money, still be able to claim they had frozen the District Council portion of the council tax and get their central government 2.5% grant. A very clever way to increase the rates to raise revenue and offset the blame and pushing extra cost onto householders and getting a grant they are not entitled to, can this be legal?'

Despite outrage at this sleight of hand, the District Council has gone ahead. At a meeting on 1st March, the SSDC announced that an agreement had been reached with Wincanton Town Council, saying that ‘the District Executive agrees to accept the offer from Wincanton Town Council of a three-year agreement to compensate SSDC for the loss of budgeted income in the car parks in Wincanton.’

But this is hardly an amicable deal, as Wincanton Town Council’s draft minutes reveal: ‘Councillors commented on the lack of consultation, validity of figures submitted and overall disgust in the way SSDC are blackmailing the Town Council. Council voted that the clerk write to SSDC to express the above. Council voted to oppose any car parking charges and will do all it can to prevent them.’

That the stance taken by the embattled Town Council is the right one is backed by many local residents. ‘Whilst market towns across South Somerset, all similar in size to Wincanton, enjoy free parking, their high streets are relatively active,’ says local TPA supporter Clive Rogers, ‘but once parking charges are imposed, everyone here fears that shoppers will leave for the out of town supermarkets. The Mary Portas High Street recommendations advocate removing parking charges, so why is the District Council threatening to impose them?’

‘To me the warning is clear,’ says Cllr Nick Colbert, ‘Parish and Town councils need to act together to ward off their cash hungry big neighbour who chooses to find ways of levering money from Parish/Town councils. Wincanton’s population mainly walks to the town centre, it is a small market town. It is surrounding people who drive in and use the car parks but SSDC doesn't care about fairness. They just want money, so Wincanton people will have to pay £18,000 in the first year and over £24,000 for the next two years by paying increased rates. If you sympathise with Wincanton Town Council and its population, please let the District Council know and, if your Parish experiences similar monetary demands, please let everyone know.’

If you live in South Somerset and are angry at the District Council’s attitude to parking, let us know too, as we plan to organise an Action Day there soon.

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