Councillors' Attendance Statistics
Agenda and minutes
Special meeting, Environment, Sustainability and Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee
Tuesday, 11 January 2011 7:00 pm
Venue: Terrace Room - York House. View directions
Contact: Gary Lelliott; 020 8891 7275; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Burford.
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
In accordance with the Members’ Code of Conduct, Members are requested to declare any interests orally at the start of the meeting and again immediately before consideration of the matter. Members are reminded to specify the agenda item number to which it refers and whether the interest is of a personal or prejudicial nature.
Members are also reminded of the requirements of Section 106 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 that they should declare and not vote on specified matters if they are two months or more in arrears with their Council Tax payments.
There were no declarations of interest.
In accordance with Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rule 16, the Chief Executive (as Proper Officer) has called in the following Cabinet Member Decision, having been requested to do so by two Members of the Environment, Sustainability and Community Overview & Scrutiny Committee:
“The Cabinet Member for Traffic approves:
· The implementation of all changes to parking charges as advertised.
· The advertisement of Traffic Management Orders to introduce free parking in the borough’s car parks and on street visitor parking spaces for borough residents’ vehicles with CO2 emissions of up to 100 g/km (Band A) as set out in the report.”
The reasons for the call-in, as supplied by Councillor Elloy and Councillor Elengorn, were as follows:
1. Predetermination - the press release of 20th October made it clear that the decision maker, Cllr Head, had already made up her mind to go ahead with the scheme and was seeking to encourage respondents to support it.
2. Consultation flawed as it did not mention the significant financial cost of the changes, at the expense of other services.
3. Consultation distorted by the Press Release saying that parking would be cheaper when it will be more expensive for owners of some low emission cars.
4. Objectors' points not answered in the Decision Report.
Introduction by members calling-in the decision
Councillor Elengorn said that he would lead on the first reason for call-in. He was concerned that a lack of regard had been given to the issue of pre-determination, particularly in official council press releases. He drew attention to areas of the press release about the statutory consultation which he felt were quite aggressive, such as “grossly unfair” and “taxes”.
Councillor Elengorn felt that this may have worked to sway residents’ opinions by not showing that the overall policy being consulted upon was still open for discussion and because of this, the consultation process was flawed.
Councillor Elloy reported that he would address the remaining three points in the reasons for call-in. He believed that the cost of the scheme was a material factor and should have been publicised to residents via consultation. Councillor Elloy stated that a manifesto did not form part of a consultation exercise, and even if it did, the administration were in front of the opposition by 2% of votes and had 44% of the overall number of votes, meaning they still did not have a majority in favour of their proposals. The new structure was going to be extremely expensive for some drivers of low emission vehicles along with a whole series of costs to residents never being publicised.
Councillor Elloy drew attention to the administration’s manifesto, stating that it promised consultation and that residents would never hear that the “council knows best”. He also added that the press release was only published toward the end of the end of the statutory consultation, leaving residents nine days to respond.
Councillor Elloy noted that there was no evidence of any regard being given to the concerns raised by objectors in their responses to the statutory consultation, while drawing attention to the wide ranging variety of matters raised. He added that it was inappropriate to exclude the overview and scrutiny committee from commenting on this policy and suggested that the entire process was flawed.
Public speakers, previously registered to speak at the meeting
Mr Rod Kebble said that he founded a group against the taxation of parking permits and stated that the previous scheme could have only started to be effective if there was a significant shift in the patterns of car ownership. He added that the previous administration was predetermined on its own policy, that the main cost of this scheme resulted from the reversal of current policies, that he was happy with the proposals even though he had a low emission vehicle and the call-in meeting was labour and resource intensive. Mr Kebble stated that a line needed to be drawn under the failed policy.
Mr Barry Edwards said that he was the founder of a campaign to get vehicles 30 minutes free parking, in order to help small businesses in the area. He believed that this call-in had cost traders dearly, as it delayed the implementation of a policy that many saw as vital for the continuation of their livelihoods. Mr Edwards added this consultation had been better than any carried out previously.
Following questions to Mr Edwards, the committee was advised that:
· There were over 50 shop keepers in St Margarets, all of whom were stating this policy would help them.
· A variety of different shops in St Margarets were stating the need for 30 minutes free parking.
· Smaller shops could not compete with supermarkets, who were able to offer free parking for their customers.
· The same messages came from shop owners in Teddington, who Mr Edwards canvassed during the May 2010 Elections, when he was standing to be a councillor.
· The consultation that Mr Edwards had carried out indicated that some shops were facing closure.
Re-address by the members calling the decision in
Councillor Elengorn and Councillor Elloy did not add anything further.
Cabinet Member and officers
The Assistant Director Highways and Transport said that the statutory notice of consultation was a notice of intent to make a specific decision. Responses to these notices were then collated by officers and presented to the Cabinet Member for their consideration. The Assistant Director confirmed that these responses were presented to the Cabinet Member for her consideration, which resulted in one further concession being introduced to allow free parking for ‘band A’ vehicles. In order to progress this part of the decision, a further statutory consultation would be published. The Assistant Director also gave details of where the consultation was advertised, such as adverts in the local newspaper and posters across the borough.
The Cabinet Member for Traffic said the Council employed an experienced press team, who assisted in the preparation of the press release about the statutory consultation. She added that she trusted the Communications Team and believed that had produced a fair and balanced and informative press release about the proposal, urging residents to respond to the consultation.
Councillor Head believed voters did take note of the manifesto as it led to a new administration being elected. She said that the statutory consultation resulted in nearly a 4-1 majority of those responding, being in favour of the proposals. The Cabinet Member stated that she always read the comments section of any consultation as a priority. She added the consultation process had not changed in a number of years and this proposal was wholly compliant with processes laid out.
With regard to the cost of this scheme, Councillor Head said it formed part of a whole series of changes, to form an overall balanced budget. It was added that money had been saved elsewhere in parking services as a result of the enforcement contract being retendered.
The Cabinet Member drew attention to the fact that her press release specifically mentioned that the changes would mean an increase in prices for some drivers. There was also a very positive response to the proposal for 30 minutes free parking and Councillor Head concluded by saying that she felt the reasons for call-in were very thin.
The Director for Environment reported that he had personally approved the press release as he believed it was suitable. He added there was an element of pre-disposition, but that this was very different from being pre-disposed.
Following questions from members of the committee, the meeting was advised that:
· The effectiveness of the 30 minutes free parking would be measured by activity data, linked to the use of RichmondCards/payment by mobile phone.
· The results of this monitoring would be reported to the Cabinet Member in due course.
· The Cabinet Member would not have approved a press release if she was not content with it.
· The Cabinet Member felt the previous scheme penalised everyone, particularly residents who could not afford to replace their cars in order to gain any benefit from it.
· Councillor Head may have chosen a different course of action if the consultation had found that a majority of residents were opposed to the changes.
· If the context of a press release was changed by the local media extracting sections of press releases, the Council’s Communications Team would pick up on this and address as necessary.
· The reason the past tense was used midway through the press release denoted that it related to a decision already taken by the Cabinet.
· Officers were confident that their estimated costs of this scheme were still valid, although it was always difficult to predict trends and there would need to be careful monitoring of revenue trends.
· The CPZ scheme (emission based permits) introduced by the previous administration was roughly cost-neutral, although the on and off-street parking system was profitable.
· Officers spent a lot of time reviewing press released, to ensure that they were not politicised.
· There was a saving being made in the processing of CPZ permit renewals, as this service would now be available online and not via the now closed parking shop in Holly Road.
· Transport Services did have its own budgets. The ,overall Council budgets are due to be presented to this committee on 26 January 2011.
Debate by the committee
Councillor Elengorn felt that asking officers to put political statements in was not appropriate. He added that it was an unfair amount of pressure to place on council staff and it undermined the overall process.
Councillor Stockley said that she felt the majority of residents probably did not know who ran the council, or even what political party formed the administration, and therefore felt there was no issue in the politicisation of press releases. She added that she felt claims about pressure being placed on the press officers were unfounded.
Mr Bell felt that the committee needed to see what the press reported, in order to assess whether the release was politicised, along with the overall package of communication with residents.
Mr Gold said that the costs of the scheme needed to be explained to residents, so they could make an informed decision. Mr Gold felt that Councillor Head was in danger of demonstrating she was pre-determined and this was a very serious matter and therefore should be referred back to the Cabinet Member for further consideration.
Councillor Naylor said he thought the content of the press release was balanced and the Cabinet Member was not pre-determined as she was willing to act on the results of the consultation.
Councillor Elloy said he had not been reassured about the cost of the scheme, especially with it being publicised, without details of the costs, in a politicised way. He stated that the press release should have been made public at the time of the statutory consultation commencing. Councillor Elloy believed that statements on the new system being cheaper were misleading for members of the public.
RESOLVED that the decision taken by the Cabinet Member for Traffic be noted.