Questions have been raised over the legality of a scheme to bring in on-street pay and display parking at previously free bays across the isle.
The issue was discussed at a heated Joint Transportation Board meeting at the Thanet council offices tonight (June 7).
Westbrook traders and residents, who had staged a march from Canterbury Road to the council offices, packed out the public gallery in a show of protest against the charges.
But meeting chairman Ros Binks told the crowd that Canterbury Road and Royal Crescent, Westbrook, as well as The Parade, Minnis Bay and Cuthbert Road, St Mildred’s Road, and Station Road in Westgate-on Sea; were now off the agenda after being removed from the road orders proposal.
The remaining roads to be discussed were due to be Cliff Street, Nelson Crescent, Paragon, Prospect Terrace, Rose Hill, Sion Hill and Wellington Crescent in Ramsgate and Buckingham Road at the junction of Gladstone Road in Margate.
But members at the meeting were demanding the scheme be withdrawn altogether with concerns raised over a lack of full consultation, a lack of financial information and the belief that the scheme could be illegal.
Cllr Barry Lewis (pictured) said: “I want to challenge the legality of this. The money Thanet council raises after expenses should go to Kent County Council for road improvements such as potholes and lighting. I have done some research and cannot find one penny that has gone to road improvements, which would be illegal. Is the money being misappropriated? Is it being spent on other services outside of highways? What is it, extreme expenses or are you not doing what you should be lawfully?”
High Court Challenge
Reference was made to a 2013 High Court case brought against Barnet council when the authority raised charges for on-street parking permits with the surplus earmarked for other schemes.
The court held that the council’s purpose in increasing the charges was to generate additional income to meet projected expenditure for road maintenance and improvement, concessionary fares and other road-transport costs and reduce the need to raise income from other sources, such as fines, charges and council tax and that this was unlawful. There was no evidence that the extra income was required to cover increased running costs of the parking scheme.
The court found against the council, saying using the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to create a budget surplus was illegal.
Cllr Lewis’ concerns were echoed by Cllr Tom King, who raised the Barnet court case.
He said: “We need to establish if what the council is doing is legal as all this will be irrelevant if it is illegal.
“Moneys and revenue raised must not be used to pad out a shortfall in the budget.”
He then quoted council agendas which said not approving phase one of the parking charges scheme would leave a “£90,000 budget gap,” and “phase two and three will bring additional income of £300,000 for the financial year 2019-20.”
Cllr King then added: “This is from the council’s own report. I think we have established that what is being done is illegal.”
He called for an external audit to be carried out to examine if parking fee income had been spent in a legal way.
A question was also raised about enforcement by Cllr Paul Messenger who asked how many enforcement officers Thanet council now had.
Monitoring officer Tim Howes said the committee was not there to discuss the management of departments but committee chairman Cllr Binks (pictured) corrected that statement.
She said: “I do think the role of the advisory board is to come back with concerns and comments and advice in regard to traffic regulation orders, street management and capital financing. Although it cannot be answered today I think at the next meeting we should have more details than we do at the moment. That is in our remit so there is no point in saying you can only discuss this and not that.”
“If we have concerns and comments we should be able to make them and ask questions, that is what the public expect of us.”
Isle wide review
Cllr Ash Ashbee said the scheme needed reviewing isle wide as pay and display would hit the business of many independent traders when effective parking enforcement could be a better solution.
She added: “Small businesses are the heart of the local community and I hope TDC will do what is right and support them and not do something that threatens their existence.”
Cllr Lesley Game (pictured) recommended that Thanet Cabinet and council be asked to review the entire scheme and to carry out a full consultation.
The recommendation was agreed.
After the meeting Cllr Lewis said he would be demanding that KCC investigates what money it may be owed by Thanet council and then demand payment of any outstanding revenue.
He added: “We should be looking back at least 13 years, it could amount to millions which would bankrupt the council.”
Mr Howes said he was “happy” to check whether the scheme was lawful but officers would always gain legal advice on scheme proposals.