On Tuesday, 30 January, the SCC Cabinet approved the introduction of parking charges at the five ‘Pay and Conserve’ sites (Chobham, Ockham, Rodborough, and Whitmoor commons and Norbury Park). This was in the face of bitter opposition from residents, community groups and, of course, Save Newlands Corner. This move is inextricably linked to the equally-opposed introduction of charges at Newlands Corner, rumoured to be implemented by the end of March.
Following an obviously well-orchestrated performance, Cabinet members voted unanimously to introduce charges at 15 of the most-used car parks. Payment will be by phone-only at some car parks and by card and phone at others. This is despite the fact that 75% of people responding to the ‘Pay and Conserve’ consultation said they did not want charges at all and 59% said they wanted cash-payment facilities.
It paves the way for the elderly (who often don’t have or want to use phones or cards), low income groups and other vulnerable groups to be effectively barred from using these sites. Despite our numerous questions, SCC has remained silent about the negative effects on health and wellbeing of these groups and the long term adverse impact on the adult social care budget, which is already under huge strain, and which could well dwarf any income received from parking charges. This is short-term gain for long-term loss.
These parking charges are also too high, inefficient, self-defeating, and legally debatable: too high because £1.30 an hour for a natural countryside car park is unreasonable; inefficient because, using the Council’s own figures, only £201,000 a year on average, out of £448,000 a year raised, will be used to help maintain the countryside; self-defeating because, from the Council’s own consultation, up to 70% of people said they would avoid coming to these sites, or come less often, if charges were applied; legally debatable because the Council says it will not be applying to the Planning Inspectorate for consent to install the parking meters – we firmly believe it should, as it did for Newlands Corner.
Other, more efficient, options should be used to maintain the countryside. Democracy and common sense were left behind when this decision was made.