CROYDON IN CRISIS: Transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON reports on how Fisher’s Folly officials have been forced into a sudden U-turn over their money-spinning ’emissions-based’ parking charges
New car parking charges, due to come into force at council-run car parks and parking bays from January 1, have been stalled.
The 30 per cent hike in charges, which the council claimed would encourage people to avoid using older, more polluting vehicles, has been pulled after the scheme was subject to a late “call-in” by Labour and Conservative councillors on the scrutiny committee.
As Inside Croydon revealed last year, the bankrupt council was trying to introduce the emissions-based parking charges on the cheap, and so was going to charge all vehicles, even eco-friendly electric cars, the same amount, and leave it to individual drivers then to claim refunds if they owned vehicles which qualified for the parking discount.
The parking fee hike and – especially – the loss of free-parking periods has outraged many shop-owners, pubs, restaurants and cafés, who in 2020 endured the toughest trading conditions since the end of the Second World War.
Business-owners in South Norwood, Thornton Heath, New Addington Central Parade, Purley, Coulsdon Town centre, Beulah Hill, Addiscombe and South Croydon would all be affected by the changes to emissions-based parking charges and the end of free-parking periods.
The terms of the scrutiny call-in are unambiguous in the councillors’ suspicions that the increased parking charges are more about money-making for the Town Hall than any real concern for the environment.
The cash-strapped council’s own estimates suggest that after implementation costs of £75,000, the increased parking charges would generate £200,000 extra income every year.
In a public consultation, which ended in October, fewer than 5 per cent of respondents were in favour of the scheme. Of the more than 600 responses received by the council, 88 per cent were against the proposals.
Now, to those sceptics the names can be added of Sean Fitzsimons, the Addiscombe West Labour councillor who chairs the scrutiny committee, plus Joy Prince, Jerry Fitzpatrick (both also Labour) and the committee’s vice-chair, Tory councillor Robert Ward.
The committee call-in was issued on December 23, little more than a week before the parking charge hike was due to begin.
The scheme will now be discussed at a scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday.
According to the meeting’s agenda papers, “Croydon Council is not allowed to use car parking charges as a fiscal measure… The timing of this increase argues that this is exactly how the measure is being used.”
The councillors have found two instances of the emissions-based parking charges appearing in documents about “managing emergency funds for the council”.
They say that while the income from parking “… will be ring-fenced, it seems as if Croydon is now trying to fund a higher proportion of the road maintenance budget from parking charges. This effectively frees up money from elsewhere, or prevents cuts elsewhere. Either way, it is using car parking charges as a fiscal measure.
“If the council is anticipating additional funds as a result of these measures (and it is), please can it provide evidence… how it will use these funds to better maintain Croydon’s roads. Especially as it is now planning to only maintain roads to ‘safest minimum levels’.”
The councillors also highlight that car usage in Croydon is already falling, without resort to the new parking charges, “So that can’t be a justification for introducing the policy now.”
And they say that the increased charges are “inconsistent with another council policy”.
They write, “The council has stated that one of its corporate priorities is to support and encourage local businesses. These charges will be bad for local businesses, especially when combined with the corresponding decision to remove free parking bays.”
The councillors identify Shirley, Addiscombe, Selsdon, Crystal Palace and Coulsdon as local business and shopping areas which could be hard-hit by increased parking charges, as they border Bromley, where parking fees are cheaper, or Caterham, where parking is generally free.
“In recent years, the council has made parking cheaper on the basis that this is what local businesses need to thrive. What evidence is there that this situation has changed?”
Expected to face the music on Thursday is Shifa Mustafa, the council’s exec director of Place responsible for the policy, and Councillor Muhammad Ali, the new cabinet member for sustainable Croydon, who inherited the controversial proposals in October when he took over the brief from Stuart King, now the deputy leader of the council.
Mustafa and Ali will be expected to deliver detailed analysis of car ownership across the borough, any assessments carried out by the council on the possible impact on local businesses, and to try to explain what road maintenance to “safest minimum levels” actually means.
The emissions-based parking proposals have failed to convince even committed environmentalists, who have expressed doubts that parking fees would really have any significant impact of car usage. “This is dogma rather than evidence-based policy-making,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon today.
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