Here in Epsom & Ewell, balancing the books this year has been a tricky business. Car park income is down and since our little borough only gets 11% of council tax charged, that is a pretty important revenue stream.
We abandoned flat-rate Sunday charges a year ago (amidst much complaint) and the ruling Residents’ Party, comprising of so-called independent councillors, has decided to charge Blue Badge holders who had, up until now, been accustomed to free parking in our car parks. Neighbouring boroughs are varied: Sutton is free we believe, Kingston charges for the most part.
The trouble was, they rather foisted it upon the Blue Badge community, paid lip-service to consultation and gave us an opportunity to latch onto and run with a hugely unpopular proposal. At the eleventh hour, the ruling group decided to “amend” their plans to include one hour free, THEN charge, subsequently deciding to properly consult and delay charging until July, but it was all too late.
We took to the streets with our petition, gained front page headlines and all in all, gave them a rather hard time of it. Our PPC, also a local councillor, raised his profile accordingly and the subject captured the attention of an ambitious reporter for the local newspaper, all of which was rather timely for the GE. We are still running the petition online, though don’t have a clear plan as to what we are going to do with it … and following on from our petition is also difficult but we will probably stop short of civil disobedience (such as a Blue Badge holder protest to create log-jam in our already log-jammed road network.)
It remains to be seen if another opportunity to vote against the proposal will be afforded since letters of objection to car park charges are supposed to come back for Committee review.
Following our publicity from the Blue Badge campaign, we spun various local stories for our PPC and gained further column inches, all of which we gather has upset the leader of the ruling group to the extent that he has resorted to telephoning the said reporter in protest. Since we spent most of 2009 in the wilderness as far as press coverage was concerned (though not for want of trying), our new found exposure in the press is most welcome. The important thing with the press is never to give up trying!
Cllr Julie Morris is Epsom & Ewell Borough Councillor for College Ward
and Liberal Democrat Council Group Leaderepsom-ewell-libdems.org.uk