Parking fee objections voted down

Permit parking in Whitley Bay.
Permit parking in Whitley Bay.

Calls to overturn an ‘appalling’ decision over increasing parking permit fees in North Tyneside have been rejected.

The borough’s Conservative opposition had called in a council decision to implement the higher fees, which they said didn’t stack up financially and was not transparent.

However, their requests to uphold hundreds of residents’ objections to the proposals and scrap the charges entirely were voted down on Tuesday night by Labour members of an overview and scrutiny committee.

It was announced in February that householders in a permit zone would no longer be entitled to one free permit and that the cost of permits would increase to £25 – meaning the annual cost for a house with two cars would go up from £20 to £50.

However, that change was amended before the policy was signed off on May 1.

Now, the first permit will be free for all residents in pay and display areas – excluding those in the Tynemouth TM2 zone – but only valid for one year rather than two.

The cost of a visitor permit has also increased from being free to £25, although the original proposals would have set them at £50 a year each.

But the Tories claimed those changes were kept secret from them during the local election campaign.

Conservative councillor Alison Austin told the committee that Labour candidates were telling residents – via a campaign leaflet and on the doorstep – that the parking charge increases were being reduced, before any final decision was made and without other councillors being informed.

She called it “decision-making on the hoof” and claimed the Tories only found out about changes to the permit charge increase via residents’ Facebook posts.

Coun Austin said: “The process was mired in the election campaign and the decision was taken very hastily.”

The Tories also questioned the “very, very murky” finances of the scheme, asking why the council was able to suddenly slash the price increases.

She added: “It proved possible overnight for the costs to be slashed roughly in half. If that was possible, I am sure there would be ways of being able to fund the permit scheme so that residents did not have to pay for it.”

However, council officers told the committee the final scheme was deemed to be financially viable because previous cost estimates had been based on the expectation that some streets would withdraw from the parking permit scheme, following the original introduction of charges.

The council thought that up to 30% of streets would pull out of their parking permit scheme – thereby reducing the authority’s income – but none did.

Labour’s Coun John O’Shea said it was “unfair” to suggest the decision was taken without due consideration, adding a “fairly extensive” consultation had taken place.

He added: “I think this is a way of introducing a political issue into the decision-making of the council, which I don’t think is quite correct.”

Colleague Coun Karen Clark said the Tory suggestion to drop the charges entirely is illogical, while Coun Sandra Graham called the decision “fair, transparent and open”.

Lib Dem Nigel Huscroft said he thought other Labour cabinet members probably did have a “heads up” about the decision before it was taken, but found no wrongdoing in the decision-making itself.

By Daniel Holland

Local democracy reporter