As Pyrrhic victories go, this must be among the most depressingly deflating.
Croydon residents had forked out their own hard-earned to pay for leaflets and publicity, they had given up countless hours to canvass and speak to their neighbours around the borough, and they had delivered such an effective campaign that an MP, a GLA member and several councillors agreed it had galvanised more interest than any other local issue.
In all, they garnered thousands of objections and more than a dozen separate petitions, all firmly opposed to council proposals to introduce Draconian new parking regulations in any zones around the borough.
Yet after less than 30 minutes of his traffic management cabinet meeting last night, where lip-service was paid to democracy and consultation, Councillor Phil “Two Permits” Thomas ploughed on to impose a set of 8am to midnight, seven-days-a-week parking restrictions in an area around Mayday Hospital.
So what did we learn?
We learned that Councillor Thomas’s “genuine consultation” was the sham that everyone said it would be. The report was written and available several days before the consultation formally ended. Pre-judged, or what?
The council illicitly closed the petition to objections on its own website 24 hours before the deadline.
And as a resident from Broad Green revealed, council tax-payers in his area had been unaware of the consultation until four days earlier – after it had ended!
Don’t take our word for it. This is what Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central who attended the meeting, said about the process. “There is no doubt about it,” the MP, himself a former Croydon councillor, “the council got this one wrong.”
Barwell also told residents that he was disappointed that the councillors did not display more humility or use the meeting to apologise to residents about the way the proposals had been handled.
In the meeting, Barwell was critical of the consultation process. By law, the council is required to place announcements in a local newspaper (the Croydon Guardian) and the HMSO-published London Gazette.
A council officer claimed – to hoots of derision from the 100-or-so residents attending the meeting – that his staff had placed notices on “literally hundreds” of lamp posts about the borough.
Barwell told the meeting that this was not good enough. “The council should aspire to do better than the legal minimum,” Barwell said, to the obvious discomfort of Mike Fisher, the leader of the council’s Tory group, and Councillor Thomas.
Today, Barwell blogged: “I delivered a letter to every home in my constituency in the affected area and I know many residents associations and groups also leafleted and canvassed door-to-door. Without these efforts, many people would not have known about the proposals.” Our italics: clearly the MP agrees with the campaigners that the council failed in its duty to advise residents of its proposals.This alone should be enough to invalidate the entire process as far as justifying the council’s proposals.
What else did we learn?
That the whole proposition was a shabby attempt at another stealth tax on local residents. This was made clear by Tory councillor, Vidhi Mohan.
Papers presented at a committee meeting in November said that the extension of the parking zones control times could raise £350,000 per year.
And speaking more frankly than might have been good for him, Fairfield councillor Mohan told the meeting, “From the outset, we were not happy with the proposals,” he said, to guffaws of disbelief, adding, “but in the current economic climate, we had to consider all options.”
Right on the money, Vidhi!
In his blog today, Barwell underlines how wrong-headed the council’s proposals were, in the misguided notion that Centrale or Whitgift Centre shoppers somehow use street parking in other parts of the borough.
“No one parks in Outram Road or Lloyd Park Avenue to shop in central Croydon or go there for a night out,” the MP writes. “Walk round these roads and the bays are full of residents’ cars or those belonging to people who are visiting them. The council didn’t propose any changes to the other controlled parking zones around the borough.
“If we renamed the outer zones the Addiscombe Controlled Parking Zone, the Park Hill Controlled Parking Zone etc, it will help to instill in officers’ minds that these are residential areas, not part of the town centre.”
There are those who see some sort of favouritism over the council’s parking policy towards the leafy, southern parts of the borough, where Conservative councillors are routinely returned at each election. In Coulsdon, for example, visitors and residents alike are able to park their cars for up to an hour for no charge. Even in the central zone, under the now-binned proposals, streets in plush Park Hill were pencilled-in for cheaper parking than neighbouring Waddon. Why the inequity within a single borough?
So it was no great surprise that Croydon’s Tory administration should pick on a poorer area to the north of the borough to impose its new parking restrictions. It did not help the campaigners’ cause that Labour MP for Croydon North, Malcolm Wicks, nor more councillors from that part of the borough, could not attend to speak against the
foregone conclusion proposals.
Where we diverge from Barwell’s view is in his congratulations to the council for “listening” to the residents over this whole palaver. Have they? Really?
There was no real evidence last night of a transparent, open and well-managed process. Nothing that was said at the meeting, nor the month-long lobbying, prevented Thomas’s team steamrollering its new rules for area around Bensham Lane.
When Waddon councillor Simon Hoar, a member of the committee, said ahead of the meeting that he would vote against the proposals, there was no caveat to say “but I’ll back parking restrictions being applied elsewhere in the borough”.
The unapologetic and bullish manner in which Thomas chaired the meeting, and its perfunctory outcome, only reinforced the residents’ cynicism about the way the council is managed.
One articulate local businesswoman, Charlotte Davies, addressed the meeting and spoke for many when she declared that the consultation “was all a fuss and smokescreen so that the price of residents’ permits can be put up”.
So agitated has Davies become over this issue that she reasoned that to pay more than £400 of her own money to print campaign leaflets would be cheaper than the human cost of the anxiety and the risk of £160 fines if her own car was towed under the proposed regulations.
And Davies is determined that this matter will not end with last night’s meeting. “Two Permits” Thomas and his crew had better beware.
And in case you did not know, Gavin Barwell is a member of the Conservative party.