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RESIDENTS ANGER AT COUNTY INACTION ON PARKING CRISIS

posted 22 Nov 2012, 12:38 by Westover Labour
Following the submission in October by Westover ward councillors for a scheme for residents parking to Somerset County
Council  , Portfolio holder Cllr Harvey Siggs (Con,Wells,right) appears to be simply sitting on the application. Cllr Brian Smedley has offered to meet Cllr Siggs on 2 occaisions with no success . 

Cllr Smedley says "I believe that Cllr Siggs has no intention of making any movement on the parking policy for months. I personally think that nothing will be done this side of next years County Election and I'm convinced that the County Executive sees this Civil Parking Enforcement as a way of making money to plug the gaps elsewhere in their budget at the involuntary expense of motorists and residents. We will give them until the New Year to respond to the proposal and if nothing has happened we will investigate the whole subject with a special Scrutiny meeting at Sedgemoor".

This is scant consolation for long suffering residents and now frustration is reaching boiling point.  Sarah Holcombe , who lives in Bridgwater town centre, has written directly to Cllr Siggs  questioning his approach so far and demanding answers to reasonable questions.  We reproduce the full text below and await Cllr Siggs' response.
 

From:Sarah Holcombe
To: cllr.siggs@mendip.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Redsidential Parking in Bridgwater
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2012 19:31:24 +0000

Dear Mr.Siggs,
                       Let me first introduce myself. My name is Sarah Holcombe and I am one of over a hundred residents who have, since Somerset County Council assumed its draconian approach towards managing town centre parking in June this year, been garnering support for a residents' parking scheme in Bridgwater. I am sure that you are aware, in your capacity as portfolio holder in charge of the Traffic Department Policy Review that on 3rd October 2012 Cllr Smedley submitted the Westover ward's petition for a residents' parking scheme. On that day, Cllr Smedley issued an update for interested residents saying:
 
"Bev Norman.......said "At the moment Resident Parking Schemes can only be introduced where there are issues relating to public safety but Cllr Siggs has called for an urgent review of this policy. My team is looking at producing this new policy so that we can get on with piloting some Resident Parking Zone schemes. Cllr Siggs is keen to move forward quickly on this......."
 
 I am sure you will understand that phrases such as "urgent review" and "move forward quickly" were pleasing and gave some hope to myself and fellow residents who have frankly come to find living in the centre of Bridgwater and owning a car virtually impossible. However, I am now growing increasingly concerned that the allusion to the need for a new policy is a convenient vehicle for delaying the implementation of a residents parking scheme in Bridgwater. The reasons for this concern are as follows:
 
1.) After submission of this report and Bev Norman's response (excerpt above) I was keen to know what examples or definitions the council could give us of 'safety issues' which would trigger the granting of a residents parking scheme under existing rules and hence hopefully expedite this painfully slow process. Despite my appealing to Brian Smedley for this information repeatedly, and he has in turn it seems, applied to you for this definition / exemplars, we have received no satisfactory reply. On 23/10/12 you wrote:
 
Dear Brian,
You ask for a formal meeting re residents parking. The current Council policy allows residents parking schemes only on safety grounds........I would be happy to meet with you, if your proposals fall into the "safety category" . 
If they do not then it may be more sensible to await any policy change.
Harvey Siggs.
 
How on earth are we to establish whether our case falls into this category if, when asked for the definition of this under existing rules, you will not provide an answer  / definition / examples???
 
2.) After waiting for over a month for Brian to gain a reply from you, I wrote to him again this Monday and was told that you now have begun to refuse his requests to be present at meetings. Furthermore, I understand from Brian that you feel that a meeting "would be pointless as nothing will be happening for months." 
 
I find this attitude startling on many counts. Let me explain:
 
a.) On a personal note, we are family with two children under the age of 2 and the difficulties of trying to access our property with them and bags / shopping are considerable. I am also concerned at the safety issues of having to herd two young children across various roads simply in order to access my own house. This situation is all the more galling when non-residents park outside the house at all times of the day. If you take a minute to empathise with my situation, I think you quickly come to realise that I do not find it even remotely acceptable for you and the council to unilaterally and arbitrarily decide that I and many others can be expected to put up with this for months.
 
b.) When I was trying to gain support for a petition over the summer, I found that so many residents were visibly relieved, pleased and hopeful at the news of a possible residents' parking scheme. I do not think you can underestimate the extreme stress and financial burden that paying for parking and parking tickets is causing to residents of Bridgwater town centre. I find Somerset County Council's decision to post traffic wardens at this time particularly distasteful at a time when so many average families are finding the cost of basic living expenses a real struggle and to burden families further with parking fines at £40 a time is just breathtakingly greedy and demonstrates a lack of care and empathy with the community it is supposed to be serving. As it stands, residents of Bridgwater town centre are effectively being punished for owning a car which in the majority of occasions is required to get to work to earn money and pay taxes - the very taxes that enable organisations such as Somerset County Council and its various employees to exist. I find this policy all the more bizarre since successive new residential housing developments are being approved in and around the town centre bringing yet more people in to the centre with the need for more parking. 
 
c.) Whilst talking to residents about the petition,
I encountered so many who said that "its no use, I've called the council so many times over the years and they always tell me no". We have also encountered this same approach and find it outrageous that Taunton residents have been granted parking permits while Bridgwater has for years consistently been given a raw deal. The council have been quite willing it seems to bat off individual enquiries for years but now the parking situation has reached breaking point. I suspect that the 'policy review' is being used to stall for time  - no doubt to supplement the council's budget by making the residents and shoppers of Bridgwater pay exorbitant parking fines at a time of extreme economic hardship. I would like to point out that I was initially scornful of those residents who had effectively given up on applying to the council for parking as I don't agree with that kind of apathy. However, the cynical use of the 'policy review' as a means of stalling the proposal of Bridgwater residents has been a disappointing eye-opening exercise for me - but not one that will discourage me. On the contrary, the parking situation affects my life so completely on a daily basis that I cannot and will not let this proposal be forgotten.  
 
 d.) I am still unable to see why Bev Norman insists there is no current model for parking schemes in place - the Taunton Deane model exists and has obviously worked for many years so clearly there is a model and one within close proximity to Bridgwater and also in an area that falls within Somerset County Council jurisdiction so Bridgwater and Taunton are clearly comparable. How can the Taunton Deane model be dismissed as irrelevant if it is still in operation and if residents there continue to pay for parking and the Council continue to enjoy the benefits of those fees? If there is no [policy model as Bev Norman and others maintain, does this mean that the Taunton Dean programme should be dissolved? How popular a move will that be I wonder?  
 
e.) I cannot see why an official organisation such as Somerset County Council are unable, or are permitte to get away with having no time scale in place to carry out the policy review. It is totally unacceptable to allow the policy review process to idle along in your own sweet time while residents' lives are being daily negatively affected. Perhaps it has been rather overlooked or forgotten by the Transport Department with your wonderfully relaxed, dismissive attitude toward the timetabling of your work, but please allow me to remind you that you are public servants who should be assisting the community in its reasonable aims and in a TIMELY manner. If I apply for a job to SCC or have to make a council payment to you, I am expected to do so within certain strict time constraints so I cannot see why the council should consider themselves exempt from this.
 
In short, I am writing to ascertain two things from you:
 
1.) What is the definition / examples of 'safety issues' that allow the granting of residents' parking schemes under the present policy rules?
 
2.) What work has been done to date to review the existing policy? As taxpayers I believe we are entitled to see that there has been some modicum of progress and I am not content to sit back for months on end while behind closed doors nameless, faceless people eventually (or never) decide to get around to helping the very same people who keep them employed. So, since the Council have at least had since the 3rd October to make some headway on a new policy (though I think we all quietly know that it is highly dubious as to whether a new policy is in fact really needed, as the residents of Taunton Deane can testify) I would like to see what has been accomplished.
 
I, and many, many others like me are becoming heartily sick of being ignored and refused what benefits our neighbours in Taunton have enjoyed for many years now. As long as SCC insists on sending out traffic wardens who relish their vocation so very much on to our streets, let me assure you that this petition will not be going away quietly. I would appreciate a swift response to all of my points and if I do not receive a satisfactory reply within 10 days of its dispatch, I will be taking further measures to complain about the conduct of SCC's Transport Department generally and to question your conduct in particular as portfolio holder. 
 
 Yours sincerely,
 
 Sarah Holcombe
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