Friday, January 20, 2012

Yarm Parking Problems

Last night brought the end of this particular phase in the long-running saga of efforts to find a solution to the twin problems of having enough parking spaces in the centre of Yarm for the right lengths of time for all the people who would like to park there.  For at least the 30 years that I have been involved in local politics,  this has been an issue.  This isn't the place to give a full history but maybe one day some of us will collaborate on writing a book, who knows?
The most recent efforts started to take shape in 2008/9 with a serious attempt to find somewhere for long stay parking in order to free some  more short stay places on the High St.  They foundered because the land being suggested was not acceptable to the majority of residents.  But the outcry did serve as a spur to find some suitable land.  Couple that with changes in industrial practice in the country which mean that lumps of coal no longer fall off rail wagons crossing the viaduct above the town, add in one or two land owners who have begun to show an interest in leasing or selling plots and possibilities begin to emerge.
I had the privilege of chairing the Environment Committee of Stockton Council for a number of years prior to the 2011 election and as part of that task undertook a review which included a brief overview of parking in the borough.  We drew a number of conclusions which included the principle that parking should be paid for in all the areas for which the borough council is responsible in order to provide funds for maintenance, security, lighting and so on.  Specifically, in Yarm, we concluded that a pay and display system on the High St could fund a long stay facility off the High St.  We agreed with council officers and the then cabinet member responsible that this could provide a solution to the problem, and that reconfiguration of the spaces might also be possible to improve traffic flow.
Unfortunately, we could not predict in 2010 the change of political leadership in the council which took place in May 2011, nor the fact that the person who was then the vice-chair of the committee and party to all the discussions would then become the cabinet member responsible and try to rush through the Pay and Display element without any assurance that it would be used to fund the long stay parking, nor even that such a facility would be provided.  Recent months have not been helped by a somewhat confrontational approach on the part of some individuals, nor by the emphasis on some aspects of proposals and ignoring others in publicity.   The result of all these changes was a decision by SBC cabinet which was then called in for scrutiny by 6 councillors.  Last night the Executive Scrutiny committee of SBC met to consider evidence and after more than 3 hours of receiving evidence, questioning and debating the chair of the committee and former Leader of the Council proposed a pause for consultation with High St residents and negotiation on land availability.  This perfectly reasonable compromise was rejected out of hand by the Labour members of the committee, supported by the leader of the Ingleby Barwick Independents.  The other IBIS member of the committee agreed with the proposal, as did the remaining members of the committee but thanks to the leader of IBIS there was a majority against the pause.
The next stage will be for the council to consult with residents of the High St in order to ascertain their needs for Resident Permits, and then a process of statutory consultation which allows everyone another "bite at the cherry".  Sadly, compromise and common sense seem to be in short supply on this one and it will cause yet more upset before it's over.

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