Howard Croft column: What is it about councils' obsession with car parks?
We are all familiar with post-Christmas blues and most of us will have devised strategies to cope with them. A couple of weeks skiing in the Alps works for some, especially the minor Royals, others hit the bottle, or lay off it, although the latter seems to me an improbable remedy. Mrs Croft is inclined to go shopping for things we don't need; this year it is a new dish washing machine, preferably a high-ticket item engineered in Germany.
I understand that it can be exciting having a new dish washer installed – a little too exciting in the case of British models, which have a habit of bursting into flames the moment your back is turned – and certainly cost less than loafing about in Davos, so I didn’t say anything. It had been my intention come BREXIT to turn my back on EU products, but given the incendiary properties of British white goods, stocking up on German stuff pre-BREXIT and, when the day comes to cover the brand name with black masking tape. One must think of one’s integrity.
My own January diversion is to do a quick survey of my Christmas gifts, make detailed notes, with a view to drafting revisions to my last will and testament based on these. The drafting can take days, it is more fun than supervising the installation of a dish washer and a great deal cheaper. Mrs Croft gave me a pair of M&S slippers this year; duly noted and double-underlined.
Now, what is it about local councils and car parks? The long and painful saga of our own council’s borderline lunatic obsession with flogging Malton’s largest car park, and the costly consequences of its failure to do so, is well known. A few years ago, East Hertfordshire District Council came up with a wheeze to sell not one, but all the town centre car parks in Bishop’s Stortford for retail development. They were undeterred by the fact that there would then be nowhere for the shoppers to park, never mind all the people employed in the town. They did have second thoughts, however, when council employees (the senior ones I suppose) realised that they would lose their perk of free parking on council car parks.
Now we have East Yorkshire County Council off-loading another car park in Bridlington to make room for another hotel. They will get a cool million quid, which is perhaps unlikely to be invested wholly in Bridlington itself, and lose the £100,000+ a year income from car parking charges.
In the meantime, another Ryedale District Council car park is in the news. There is a proposal to relocate the Pickering Monday market from the market place to the nearby car park, a proposal to which the market traders are opposed. I am not a market trader, so I have no views on the matter, and I seldom go to Pickering except to have lunch at the White Swan or to take my grandchildren to the steam railway. An alternative suggestion – to have the stalls turned around to face the road (closed on market days), so reducing pedestrian congestion on the narrow footpaths. This has been ruled out by the council on “health and safety” grounds (or was it the Data Protection Act that is the problem, it’s usually one of those).
As I understand it from press reports, all issues to do with the proposed relocation of the market have been resolved except that of the council’s loss of revenue from car parking on Mondays.
The implication in these reports is that this is the overwhelming consideration, which if the council makes the decision it is bound to be.
Finally, Scarborough Council has rejected a suggestion that the free parking period in its car parks should be brought forward to encourage people to come into the town centre and increase footfall. They rejected this because revenue would suffer, which is true, but also because North Yorkshire County Council would not support such a change because it would “have a damaging effect on the operation of Park and Ride”. I assume that this is a euphemism for “have a damaging effect on the income of Park and Ride”.
Nowhere in any of this did I see any reference to the interests of, and benefits to the communities that these councils serve and their preferences.