Posted: Mon 19th Oct 2020

Suspending parking charges in town centres was “right thing to do”, says Flintshire councillor

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Oct 19th, 2020

Suspending parking charges in Flintshire’s town centres was “the right thing to do” to support businesses, a community leader has said. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It comes despite confirmation that Flintshire Council will no longer be reimbursed for lost parking income as a result of the decision to help firms hit by the coronavirus pandemic. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The local authority made the move, which it said was also designed to assist key workers, following the introduction of national lockdown measures towards the end of March. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The free parking offer was later extended in June when non-essential shops reopened in Wales and a council spokesman said it would remain in place “for the foreseeable future”. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

However, despite being successful in its first claim for lost parking fees, the authority has been told by the Welsh Government it will no longer be eligible. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The ruling was revealed by the council’s corporate finance manager Gary Ferguson during a meeting on Friday, October 16. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He said: “We received a reimbursement for quarter one and then we received eligibility criteria for quarter two onwards very recently. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“That does say that where councils have made a policy decision to not charge post-pandemic then it won’t be eligible. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“The council has challenged that and written to the minister, who clarified that is the case.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mr Ferguson said there was potential for a claim to be made on the basis of a reduction in footfall, but council leader Ian Roberts described it as only “a slither of hope”. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Frustration was voiced over the decision during last week’s virtual meeting of the corporate resources scrutiny committee. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It comes after the authority recently disclosed it would need to find anywhere between £14.4m to £27.3m to plug its estimated budget shortfall for the next financial year because of the impact of Covid-19. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Buckley Bistre East councillor Richard Jones was among those who questioned the government’s ruling. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He said: “Are Welsh Government saying that they’re not willing to support local business in that way? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“That’s what they’re saying if they’re not going to support the decision made locally.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He later continued: “I understand the sentiment behind it, but I think we did the right thing, and most people would think that as well. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“There’s lots of towns specifically in Flintshire that rely on those car parks to provide the trade. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“If you start charging, it might only be a small amount, but we know from past experience that it does change people’s shopping habits.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

In a recent publication, Audit Wales said an additional £500m of Welsh Government funding had been provided to councils to mitigate additional costs and income losses during the pandemic. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

But auditors said there may still be a “significant funding shortfall” for local authorities in the future. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

In response to Cllr Jones’ comments, the council leader said he did not believe his assessment was fair, highlighting a range of business support put in place by ministers in Cardiff. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He also acknowledged that other authorities had chosen to keep parking charges in place during the same period. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Cllr Roberts, who heads up the ruling Labour administration in Flintshire, said: “Welsh Government has supported businesses in the first lockdown. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“There were grants to local businesses and there was the business rate reduction for a year which many town centre businesses actually benefited from. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“It’s not for me to justify Welsh Government’s decisions, but what I am saying is that this was quite clearly a local decision. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“When I went to Denbighshire during this period, the car parks on the beach at Prestatyn and Llandudno, car parking charges were back in at places like that.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

When asked for further clarity on the situation, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Local government has risen to the challenge of responding to the coronavirus crisis and we recognise this has created considerable pressures. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We have made more than £0.5bn in additional funding available to local authorities to help with the extra costs associated with the pandemic and the loss of income. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We have agreed a set of principles with the WLGA and Society of Welsh Treasurers for income loss eligibility, this includes support for parking charge losses as a result of lower footfall but not for the impact of decisions taken locally by councils about charging regimes.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here). ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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