Are rural parking charges quite the golden egg the county council hoped for?

“Using the council’s own figures, only £201,000-a-year on average out of £448,000-a-year it hopes to raise will be used to help maintain the countryside.

“The council says it will not be applying to the Planning Inspectorate for consent to install the parking meters. We believe the council should apply, it also denies the public its legal right to object.

“Other more efficient options should be used to maintain the countryside.

“Democracy and common sense were left behind when this decision was made”

Screenshot 2019-05-17 at 22.28.36.pngHasn’t the SCC Cabinet Member Mike Goodman some explaining to do?

Didn’t he tell us all that charging to park on OUR commons would enable the council to trouser £3m over the next 15 years? Didn’t he tell us the move was to “protect the countryside.”

Well, he may be right about protecting the countryside because despite what he claims s, fewer people are going there.

The Surrey County Council cabinet member has been a robust defender of the parking charges introduced last year at various commons around the county, claiming they will bring in £3 million over 15 years and that they are necessary to protect the countryside.

The charges are already in place at Newlands Corner, Chobham Common, Ockham and Wisley Commons and Norbury Park, and Cllr Goodman claims they are on track to hit their first-year targets.

But the trouble is, almost nothing he says about the charges adds up.

Claim: The parking charges will generate £3 million over 15 years

Whether the parking charges will produce that profit has been one of the central issues of the controversy over their introduction – if they won’t help the countryside pay for itself, then the justification for introducing the charges vanishes.

But looking at the full business case that the council published on its website, it isn’t exactly clear how the charges will manage to produce £3 million, even on the council’s own terms.

Some parking meters have been vandalised, adding to costs and reducing revenue 

The business case claims that between 2018 and 2023, the charges will provide a net revenue of around £581,000 – an average of £116,200 per year.

What this means is that in the following 10 years the parking charges will have to generate a net income of £2.4 million – an average of £240,000 per year. Effectively, the charges will have to more than double their profits and it is not clear why the council thinks they will.

However, this is only the start of the unanswered questions.


Battle Over Parking Charges

Business case ‘in question’
Councillor rants about residents
Will the charges break even?
  • Norbury Park ‘virtually empty’

Claim: Visitor numbers are on track to meet the council’s expectations

The other key issue in the controversy is over visitor numbers, and whether or not the charges are putting people off going to Surrey’s commons.

a petition objecting to the charges, Cllr Goodman claimed that, despite challenges, “vehicle numbers across Surrey with the exception of Norbury Park should exceed the expected figures for the first year”.

Before the parking charges were proposed, the county council counted the number of vehicles using the car parks at Whitmoor Common, Chobham Common, Rodborough Common, Ockham and Wisley Commons and Norbury Park.

The published business case included annual averages for each common, the total being 446,000 visitors across the countryside estate.

However, figures obtained by a member of the public under the Freedom of Information Act cast doubt on the accuracy of these numbers as well.

Ockham Common, one of the commons affected by the parking charges 

Take, for example, Chobham Common, where counters at five of the six car parks recorded an average of 164,260 vehicles. Given one car park was not counted, the true number is likely to be slightly higher.

However, the county council claimed in its business case that there were only 127,000 visits to the common’s car parks per year – a reduction of more than a fifth.

Why this reduction? We don’t know, and the business case doesn’t say.

Norbury Park’s Young Street car park stands empty back in September 2018 – visitor numbers have halved since the parking charges were introduced (Image: ©Grant Melton Photography 2018)

Even more curious is the case of Norbury Park. The counters were only installed at the Fetcham car park, where they counted 49,942 cars.

The business plan claims the park received 56,000 visitors per year before the charges, presumably taking into account the fact that they hadn’t counted either Young Street or Crabtree Lane, but if that was the case then between them those car parks would have only 6,000 visitors per year – or just eight per day.

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