Action on Tackling ASB…That Won’t Tackle ASB?!

I frequently come away from council meetings feeling frustrated, but never quite like I did on Tuesday night (8th February).  Tuesday night’s meeting was a call-in.  I have written about a call-in before in the blog post ‘Sackgate’ which related to the council’s decision to change from black recycling boxes to green recycling bags. 

As a reminder, a call-in is a process to decide whether a decision should be looked at again.  The Constitution states that all decisions of the Council will be made in accordance with the following principles:

a) proportionality (i.e. the action must be proportionate to the desired outcome);

b) due consultation and the taking of professional advice from Officers;

c) human rights will be respected and considered at an early stage in the decision making process;

d) a presumption in favour of openness;

e) clarity of aims and desired outcomes; and

f) when decisions are taken by the Executive, details of the options which were taken into account and the reasons for the decision will be recorded.

This call-in was requested following an Executive Member decision to implement a TRO (traffic regulation order) for some changes to off-street parking in the borough.  Before I get to the reasons why it was felt a call-in was necessary, I’ll explain what a TRO is and what this one specifically relates to. 

A TRO is a legal process that restricts or prohibits the use of the highway network in line with the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.  If you request for example double yellow lines or a change in speed limit, it’s a TRO process that must be undertaken to implement them.  New TROs need to have the full support of the Police who are a statutory consultee, and there is a legal process that needs to be followed before implementation can happen. 

You are probably wondering how a TRO could be controversial, but you may remember the consultation late last year where there was confusion over the council wanting to make the borough’s car parks operational 24/7.  There was a lot of social media backlash because it was assumed this meant that the council would be charging for car park use at times that are currently free.  We were all assured that this wasn’t the case.  This particular TRO states in the report papers the following:

As part of its Borough-wide parking management improvement plan, Wokingham Borough Council needs to make changes to its current Off-Street Borough Car Parks Order. The primary purposes of these changes are to enable the Council to introduce parking controls which enable it to enforce against increasing instances of antisocial behaviour in existing car parks; to provide a separate Order for our existing and new Park & Ride car parks; to respond to resident requests for clarity in charging; to limit the maximum stay permitted at California Crossroads Car Park; and to take this opportunity to incorporate provisions that will enable the Council to designate electric vehicle charging parking bays in any Off-Street Car Parks.

There is more detail in there, including “introducing a new 15-minute initial parking period, without charge at Dinton Pastures Country Park Activity Centre Car Park.”  However, the part that has raised several eyebrows is the Changes to Operating Hours section which states:

The new Off-street Car Parks Orders will enable the Council to take action against antisocial behaviour, misuse and vandalism of public car parks by extending the current, 10hour daily charging period to be ‘At All Times’ and car park operating hours to apply from Mon-Sun (including bank holidays).

This means that all car park users will be required to comply with parking regulations at all times and the Order will permit the Council to issue penalty charge notices to those vehicles in its use car parks as part of anti-social gatherings. These controls will be supported by CCTV and meet the recommendations for deterring such activity made by Thames Valley Police.

The issue of anti-social behaviour in car parks has been making headlines recently with these late-night car meets, mostly in the Carnival car park.  Local councillors have been calling for preventative action so welcome a potential solution. 

However, when Labour councillor, Cllr Shirley Boyt watched the meeting where the decision was made, she had serious concerns.  She followed up with a number of questions to officers following the meeting to alleviate these concerns, but didn’t receive any answers, and as such, along with 4 other councillors, ‘called-in’ the decision.  The reasons for the call-in were stated as have contravened sections 1.4.2 a), d) and e) of the constitution “in so far as it cannot be determined from the information provided, whether the action is proportionate to the desired outcome and there is no clarity of aims and desired outcomes.”

The questions posed (and not answered) were:

  1. What are the recommendations made by Thames Valley Police? Are they proportionate to the problem? What happens where ASB is committed but (as is likely to be the case) the perpetrator does not register his/her vehicle?
  2. This implies that everyone using the car parks in the evening and on a Sunday will have to register their vehicle and check in and out. What evidence is there that perpetrators of anti-social behaviour will comply with this requirement? If they do not, how does this requirement assist with identifying them?
  3. How will this requirement impact on residents who use the car park and forget to check in? Will enforcement officers be active 24/7? What is included in the policy that would avoid innocent residents being fined simply for failing to display a ticket during times when there is no charge for using the car park? How are residents being informed of the change, which will require them to have a ticket at all times, when previously there was no requirement and people used to using the car park would not even look at the ticket machines overnight or on a Sunday?
  4. The supporting CCTV will help to deter ASB, but can it be used to prosecute offenders?
  5. Members have been told variously that the CCTV cameras were installed due to theft of catalytic converters, to reduce emissions caused by queuing cars, and now to deter ASB. Section 1.4.2 d) states there should be a presumption of ’openness’. This is not apparent here.

A call-in is dealt with by the Overview & Scrutiny Management committee, a committee that is politically balanced, and which I am a member of.  It was our role to assess the evidence and decide whether the Executive had followed the constitution, or to send it back to them to reconsider.  In theory, the committee should be independent. 

What happened in that meeting left me completely exasperated at the time, and now I feel very angry.  I spent a lot of time researching before hand and wanted to try and ascertain how making car parks 24/7 operational would tackle ASB.  I also wanted to understand what the consequences of making these car parks 24/7 operational would have on law abiding citizens.  In that meeting, what we witnessed was a masterclass in defensiveness. 

We were told that this TRO isn’t about ASB and Cllr Boyt was asked why she was asking about ASB, when it’s not about ASB.  You can imagine the confused expression on many of our faces.  I did take the opportunity to read out text from the report in front of us which mentioned ASB 19 times and highlighted that it states it was a primary objective.  However, the Executive member and officers held fast and tried to take the focus away from the ASB issue.  What did add further confusion was when one of the Conservative councillors, Cllr R Margetts asked about the delay in implementing the TRO (due to the call-in) had on ASB and we were told that ASB incidents had happened because of this delay.  Independent councillor Cllr Doran summed it up well when he tweeted “Wokingham Borough Council currently pushing through Schrödinger’s Traffic Regulation Order.  It, apparently, wont’ help stop anti-social behaviour in car parks but delaying it will allow more anti-social behaviour in car parks.” 

I wanted to try and understand what making the car parks 24/7 operational meant for users of the car park.  We were assured that this did not mean a change in pricing, but simply that users of the car park had to abide by the car park’s terms and conditions at all times.  This was then contradicted when I queried about the requirement for users to get permits/tickets for their cars even when it’s free to park.  In the case of Wokingham borough car parks, this means checking in on the machines with the car registration.  My fear is that people will forget, because the car park is free, and then get a parking fine for not having checked in.  I was told that people didn’t need to check in, so it wasn’t a problem. 

I found this response odd because the regulations of the borough’s car parks state that users need a permit/ticket and as you may remember, the report stated that the car parks being 24/7 operational meant that “all car park users will be required to comply with parking regulations at all times.”  I pressed on this and kept getting answers that contradicted one another. 

So now we have new parking measures that aren’t about tackling ASB, don’t require people to check in (and thus asking people to comply with some of the regulations but not others), and this leaves me questioning what the point is.  We were told that this gives the council the option of adding in the check in function, but it wasn’t planning on doing it.  Are you as bemused as I am? 

I then asked if this was about generating more income from parking fines because the budget for next year has an increase of £241,000 in parking fine income.  I was immediately shouted down and told this was nothing to do with what we were discussing, and I got no answer.  Make of that what you will! 

I’m sure you can guess what happened next.  We were asked to determine whether to confirm the Executive Member decision or refer the matter back to the Executive Member for further consideration, with recommendations as appropriate.  All Conservatives councillors confirmed the decision and as they have the majority, that’s what happened.  So a TRO is being implemented that is not clear on what it is trying to achieve, and the council is budgeting for a large increase in parking fine income. 

I would like to end by quoting from the Statutory Guidance for local authorities on enforcing parking restrictions

“Civil parking enforcement provides a means by which an authority can effectively deliver wider transport strategies and objectives.  Enforcement authorities should not view it in isolation or as a way of raising revenue.”  And “the objective of civil parking enforcement should be for 100 per cent compliance, with no penalty charges.” 

So I guess we need to watch this space and we will continue to press the council for preventative measures to tackle the ASB taking place in the borough’s car parks. 

Should anyone wish to watch the meeting, it can be viewed here

One thought on “Action on Tackling ASB…That Won’t Tackle ASB?!”

  1. This all seems to make things harder for regular users of the car parks without really addressing the problems. Plus £241,000 more money no longer available for local businesses cannot be a good thing surely?

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