Thanet council says it has ‘no intention’ of withdrawing recent rises in on-street parking charges following a letter from Kent County Council saying they may be unlawful.
The authority has also defended its spend of parking income surpluses following claims that ring-fenced cash may have been used ‘incorrectly.’
Letters uncovered by former councillor Ian Driver and seen by The Isle of Thanet News reveal a dispute between the two authorities with KCC’s Corporate Director Barbara Cooper writing to Thanet council’s operational services boss Gavin Waite in June to demand the most recent parking fee hikes are withdrawn until they have been ‘completely re-advertised.’
‘Unlawful charges and signs’
She wrote: “It is my understanding that a number of legislative processes that are required to make changes to parking, may have been carried out incorrectly resulting in unlawful charges and signs being introduced onto the public highway, for which Kent County Council is ultimately responsible.”
Ms Cooper says notices advertising parking charge rises were only published 14 days prior to implementation and not the required 21 days. She also states that the ‘little’ information in the notices did not meet required statutory requirements.
Ms Cooper adds: “Kent County Council would therefore strongly advise that the rise in charge be withdrawn with immediate effect and that the process to advertise the changes be completely re-advertised to meet the necessary statutory requirements.”
The corporate director also claims those parking in Marine Terrace pay and display bays, which were formerly taxi spaces, are being overcharged.
She says: “There has been a recent change in the Traffic Regulation Order which regulates parking places on Marine Terrace in Margate. The spaces that were provided for taxis only have been legally changed to provide pay and display spaces.
“Unfortunately, the charge that was advertised and written into the Traffic Regulation Order is different to the charge that is being imposed on site and the driver is being overcharged at the point of payment.
“The sign that has been erected on Marine Terrace to inform the driver that a payment is necessary is also unlawful in that an off-street yellow sign has been placed on site and not the required sign under the Traffic Regulation Signs and General Directions Legislation.
“Kent County Council, as the highway authority, has strongly advised that the charges should be changed immediately to reflect the Traffic Regulation Order and that the sign is removed immediately from the public highway.
“The continued unlawful practice will put Thanet District Council at risk of challenge through both the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and ultimately through the judicial process and the necessity to repay any overcharging to the public.”
A Thanet council spokesman said the error had been resolved. They said: “There was an error in the charges displayed at point of payment at Marine Terrace, Margate. This has been corrected to reflect the amounts published in the original parking order. KCC was informed and the matter is now resolved.”
A further letter on July 25 again outlined the issue of on street parking notices and also the allocation of expenditure from the decriminalisation (parking enforcement) budget.
‘No withdrawal of charges’
Thanet council’s chief executive Madeline Homer replied to say notices about parking fee hikes were displayed for 21 days and adds: “The information on the notices was also approved on that day by your (KCC) parking officer and therefore meets all the relevant requirements. In future we now consider it necessary to take photographic evidence for any avoidance of doubt.
“Therefore, we have no intention of withdrawing these fees.”
An issue over where parking fee surpluses are spent is also raised in Ms Homer’s letter, apparently in response to a conference call between the two authorities.
Parking income surplus
The issue of the legality of spending surpluses made from parking charges was brought up by Thanet councillors at a transport board meeting in June, held to discuss proposals for pay and display bays in a number of Thanet roads, including hotly contested bays in Westbrook.
During the meeting councillors raised concerns over the legality of how income was being spent. Parking fee surpluses that Thanet council raises, after expenses, should go to Kent County Council for road improvements.
But during the meeting councillors, including Barry Lewis, Karen Constantine and Tom King,questioned whether these funds had been passed on correctly and raised 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 unlawful as 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.
In her letter to KCC Ms Homer said relevant legislation allows for surpluses of an agreed amount in the fund to be spent in the district at the council’s discretion.
She says TDC was allowed an agreed figure of up to £159,000 in 2017 to be spent without Kent highways approval on areas such as making good any deficit from the General Fund, such as if more was spent more on enforcement than received in income, or to pay back money to the fund that has been used to plug a deficit in parking operations.
Ms Homer says TDC’s use of £134,000 for 2017 was legal and a sum of £166,000 would be similarly legal for 2018, with a total surplus of £620,925.
In her letter she adds: “(I) feel that there is no need for a meeting to discuss this issue any further.”
A Thanet council spokesman confirmed an investigation had been carried out and the relevant response made.
They said: “The council has replied to this letter to confirm that following investigation we are satisfied that the correct procedures were followed and as such will not be withdrawing the rise in charge.”