A CAMPAIGN group set up to fight plans to introduce fees at park-and-ride car parks has said the move could be “catastrophic”.
Leigh Rapson, a city centre businessman, set up a Facebook group called ‘No To Charges At Plymouth Park and Ride’ yesterday morning.
The group was set up following The Herald’s story which revealed that Plymouth City Council’s scrutiny panel has agreed to recommend that parking charges should be introduced at all three park and ride sites in the city.
And in just a few hours the group had already attracted over 70 members.
Mr Rapson said: “I set up this group following what could be yet another catastrophic decision by Plymouth City Council.
“If the council decides to introduce parking charges at these sites it will increase gridlock on an already strained traffic infrastructure, as well as affecting local businesses. It will put people off coming into the city centre.
“The group is a pressure group. Plymouth City Council need to know how people feel. The response to the group has been really good so far, with over 70 members already.
“It’s time to make a stand and say ‘no more’. It’s the constant misinformation which is getting people frustrated. The council say they won’t do it and then fly in the face of that and do it anyway.
“We want to make our voices heard so the council considers us when they make their decision on the issue.”
The park and ride car parks – at Milehouse, the George and Coypool – are free at present, with motorists paying to use the park and ride buses.
Under the proposals motorists could be asked to pay for parking at the sites.
The scrutiny panel has looked at ways in which a single charge could be used to cover parking and bus fares.
Cllr Ian Bowyer, Conservative group leader on the council, said he was “astonished” at what he described as a U-turn.
“In October, 2013, having read a confusing consultation notice posted in the George park and ride car park, I asked the council to confirm whether it was their intention to introduce a £1 an hour charge at Milehouse, George and Coypool,” he said.
“Their response was to say there were no proposals to charge for parking at the George park and ride site.”
He said he was told that the notice was purely for the enforcement of parking in disabled bays without a valid blue badge and vehicles parking outside of the marked bays.
“This is fast becoming a shambles as the council in one breath says no charges are planned and then seems to say the opposite within weeks,” Cllr Bowyer said.
“We don’t need knee jerk reactions but sensible policies which have public support.
“If the council does not know how, can residents hope to understand and meaningfully respond to consultation?
“Local residents are already incensed by proposed council parking charge hikes in controlled parking zones. This adds insult to injury.”
He urged the council to re-run its consultation exercise “as clearly the goal posts have been moved”.
Cllr Bowyer said there was a wider principle at stake over what is a fair charge.
“Here we see a Labour run council complaining about a cost of living crisis whilst actually contributing to the problem themselves, not forgetting this year’s council tax hike of 2per cent and the likelihood of a further hike early next year.”
He said Conservative councillors opposed further increases in parking charges and council tax.
“We urge the city council to come clean and be more upfront with local people as to spending plans, even if this means facing up to tough, controversial decisions.”
A spokesperson for Plymouth City Council said: “The council has not made any decisions to introduce charges at Plymouth’s park and ride sites or change the way these services are currently run.
“One of the council’s scrutiny panels has been reviewing the operation of the three park and ride sites to see if there are ways the service can be improved and costs reduced (operating these sites currently costs the taxpayer around £130,000 a year).
“The panel benchmarked Plymouth’s service against those run by 26 different local authorities around the country and considered evidence from a range of witnesses including local bus companies, the Plymouth Life Centre, Derriford Hospital and passenger representative body Travel Watch South West.
“Following a number of meetings, the panel has discussed the following recommendations for the council, which are to investigate the feasibility of charging for parking at the park and ride sites to help cover the costs of their maintenance; renegotiate park and ride ‘departure charges’ (charges made to the operator for using the park and ride sites); investigate the feasibility of a new park and ride service between Milehouse and Derriford Hospital; explore the potential for extending operating hours to help accommodate late night shopping in the city centre and evening visiting times at Derriford Hospital; improve the provision of information at the park and ride sites detailing departure and arrival times.
“Cabinet members will now need to carefully consider these recommendations and decide whether any of them will be implemented.
“The public notices that were put up at the park and ride sites a couple of months ago were advertising the proposed changes to off street parking that have just been out for consultation. These proposals do not include charging at the park and ride sites.
“The notices were put up to let people know we are planning to add the three park and ride sites to the city’s Off Street Parking Order. This aims to bring all of our car parks under one order and help reduce unsafe and inconsiderate parking at the park and ride sites.”