Throw caution to the wind, splash out on a three litre bottle of White Lightening, chuck a few more sprouts in the pan and mix a sixpence into the pudding. Walsall Council has given us an early Christmas present.
From December 20, parking will be free in Walsall town centre until January 3. Joy to the world. According to the cabinet member for transport, Councillor Tom Ansell, described on the council press release and website as a “generous” transport boss, this will make the “town centre even more attractive as a place to shop”. Welcome as this initiative is, a quick stroll around the town centre suggests that it comes too late for the boarded up shops and those businesses forced to hold closing down sales. Short stay parking in Walsall is an expensive nightmare and for the closed and closing enterprises and their employees, it will be a bleak midwinter.
Cynics might suggest that this “generous” largess has been bestowed to deflect attention from the muted pronouncement from the council that pay and display parking meters are to be introduced in streets surrounding the town centre. This, in reality means an end to free parking in Walsall town centre. For the curious, even a detailed and time consuming search of the council website produces zero information regarding the proposal. The legal notice does not appear on this very poor attempt at social media but was published in a local free sheet newspaper, one that is very useful in lighting fires and absorbing the waste products of cats. For a council that tells us that transparency and accountability are at the very heart of its incompetence, this proposal has been well and truly buried.
It was left to the ever vigilant YamYam to turn up the document which appeared on a website devoted to news and council driven drivel in, of all places, Somerset. The good people of Bath and Wells now know that parking meters will be placed in Ablewell Street, Bott Lane, Bradford Street, Freer Street, Goodall Street, Hatherton Street, Lichfield Street, Little Newport Street, Lower Forster Street, Lower Hall Lane, Midland Road, Station Street, Tantarra Street, Walhouse Road, Ward Street, Warewell Street and Wedge Street. Helpfully, residents of Minehead, Yeovil and Glastonbury wishing to object are now furnished with the address of the relevant Walsall Council department. For the good people of the Walsall streets involved, information is harder to uncover.
Believe it or not, Walsall Council has a parking strategy. Approved by cabinet in April 2008, this document is said to conform to the previous government’s Ten Year Transport and Planning Policy Guidance Notes in that it will “use parking policies, alongside other planning and transport measures, to promote sustainable transport choices and reduce reliance on the car for work and other journeys”. Based on the Traffic Management Act 2004 which “places a strong emphasis on the local authority taking responsibility for parking enforcement through the development of Civil Parking Enforcement”, the strategy is to discourage car use. In Walsall, there is the added bonus of making money for an inept council.
Rather than accept this responsibility, our enlightened council did what it always does when faced with a tricky challenge and outsourced the job to a private run-for-profit company. APCOA stands for Airport Parking Company of America and the civil enforcement officers currently stalking the streets of Walsall work for APCOA. Originally founded in Cleveland, Ohio, the company became APCOA Autoparking GmbH based in Germany and the current owners seem to be Eurazeo, a French investment company. As with all deals between the council and private companies, the financial details are too sensitive to be disclosed to the actual people who pay for them because, it seems, it is not in our interest to know. Disgruntled motorists issued with tickets might become upset if they realised that after the council has taken a cut, their fines are flying off in the general direction of Stuttgart and Paris.
The 14 day Christmas present is certain to knock a big hole in the targets set by APCOA in order to be profitable and we are likely to see an increase in ticketing before and after the amnesty. Factor in the income from new parking meters to keep APCOA happy and the council strategy is successful; fewer cars, more fines, dying town centre.
The strategy document does, though, offer some comfort. It states: “In accordance with the Traffic Management Act, the council will be expected to exercise it’s new parking enforcement powers in a fair and reasonable manner.” So that’s okay then. It gives this further undertaking: “The council will adopt management and operational systems for its parking enforcement and management service that respond to the requirements of the local community.” As long as the local community agrees to pay through the nose to park that is. Another important part of the strategy is the recognition that parking charges should be equitable across the borough so as not to disadvantage district centres. The early Christmas present given in Walsall will not extend to shoppers who drive in Aldridge, Bloxwich, Brownhills, Darlaston and Willenhall.
The pay and display restrictions, apart from cutting off the town centre to drivers who resent forking out to go shopping or pay their council tax bill, will also have an impact on people fortunate enough to be within walking distance of the town. Residential streets in Birchhills, Butts, Caldmore and Chuckery are already plagued with the parked cars of commuters who travel to work in Walsall and from traffic understandably avoiding the madness of the ring road.
According to the car dealer stickers on rear windows, many of the vehicles left all day outside peoples houses originate from Birmingham, Cannock, Lichfield, Sutton, Tamworth and Wolverhampton. The locals can understand why migrant workers, many of whom work for the council, decide to park for free and walk the last half mile to work. But that doesn’t ease the frustration of not being able to park somewhere near their front doors and having to carry the weekly shop, small children and cases of Special Brew the half mile from the nearest parking space.
To be fair, the council have thought of this. The strategy document states: “In residential areas, local residents` ability to park close to their homes should be supported wherever possible.” The key words here are wherever and possible. Of course, there are residents only parking permits but the council intends to triple the price to £60 per household and reduce the number of cars covered. “Supported wherever possible.”
Never one to shy away from plain speaking, our heroic council leader, Mike Bird, defends the proposals. He said: “We’ve got to the situation where we need to raise income and ease congestion. These charges will prevent people from leaving their cars clogging up the streets all day.”
Should concerned residents of Taunton wish to object to the introduction of parking meters in Walsall, they have until December 10 to do so. Formal objections to the Order should be sent, with the grounds for making them, in writing (quoting ref. PBW/2265/2875) to:
The Constitutional Service Manager,
The Civic Centre,
On the fourteenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Thirteen councillors a-councilling,
Fourteen Civil Enforcement Officers a-ticketing
And a very silly bird in a pear tree.