Smart Parking RIP in Saltaire?
Smart Parking RIP in Saltaire?

It’s the small local issues that highlight what needs to be put right nationally. This time the troubles are with the limits of our planning system, and self-regulation of commercial industries. But this time it looks like there’s a good ending in sight, due to local people and their Council working together. Saltaire Investments have assured us in a letter that any car park in Oastler Road will be run like other nearby carparks.

To recap, we blogged last October about the sins of Oastler Road Car Park behind the Saltaire Co-op. In the past it has provided useful short-term parking for shoppers visiting the busy main Bingley Road. All through the summer of 2017 it had been run by Smart Parking, an operator who made Oastler Road a model of the sharp practice. They made profit by provoking people into simple mistakes, including making people pay £100 for not getting a ticket for the first ‘free’ 20 minutes.

Lesson number one might be that none of this would have happened had the Council been better funded and structured. It had run the car park up to June 2017, but considered itself unable to continue, for lack of appropriate experience and lack of funds to invest in up-to-date systems.

Our petition for an end to Smart Parking’s immoral practices was heard by the full Council in December. By then the Council had already found a loophole by which they could stop the car park operation, forcing Smart Parking to remove all the ticket machines, cameras and signs in December. The road had never been given official permission by national government to be used as a car park.

The British Parking Association rejected the Council’s complaint about Smart Parking, without giving their reasoning. The BPA is an industry body for car parking, affiliated to and paid for by the companies that are affiliated to it, including Smart Parking. Smart Parking boast on their website that the courts confirm the legality of their ways of making profit from fines.

Lesson number two might be that self-regulation of industries will tend to work to white-wash the industry. So long as its members do not break the law, it will be unwilling to take the part of wronged customers, even if their own code of conduct is bent like a funfair mirror. Public accountability requires public participation.

The landowner has now applied for the land on both sides of Oastler Road to again be used as a car park, and was given planning permission on 28th August. There were many objectors who wanted the Council to insist that the vicious system of fines imposed by Smart Parking last summer could not be repeated. The bad news is that the national planning rules demand that the Council approve developers’ proposals. There have to be strong planning reasons that will stand up to an appeal to national bodies if any conditions are put. And they do not allow the Council to say anything about how a development will be run. So the permission was granted.

Lesson number three might be that our planning system serves the wrong masters. It so favours private developers that it is unable to respond properly to the desires of the local population. In the housing sector, planning rules favour private developments. It does not encourage solutions for housing that are so needed by those who cannot afford market prices, even though housebuilding falls far short of need. We have seen that locally in the Bingley Crosley Wood appraisal. Lack of government support forces public sector bodies to make their ‘assets’ yield high value by, rather than get on with their job of providing needed services.

But now for the good news. The landlord who owns the land and property in Oastler Road and now has permission to use it as a car park is not Smart Parking but Saltaire Investments, based in Manchester. After discussions with Councilllor Vick Jenkins in Shipley, they have written to reassure Labour members and “other relevant parties” (that means all of us residents, businesses and car-park users!) that:

  • Smart Parking will not be invited back.
  • The car park will be run similarly to Council car parks: 20 minutes free parking without a ticket; maximum 4hr stay; short grace period.
  • There are discussions with the Co-op, to see if the Co-op’s usual operator of car parks may be suitable.

The fourth lesson might be that a collective loud local voice – from local Councillors, the local Council, petitions and people of all parties and no party can make changes now. That’s what Labour’s community organising is all about. How much more could we achieve with a national government that works for the public good?

It will be many months before Oastler Road can be run as a managed car park. The national government will have to agree a change in use of Oastler Road. For now, no-one is currently stopped from parking on Oastler Road, because there are no yellow lines.

Ludi Simpson – Shipley Branch Labour Party, 28 August 2018

Please note that member blog posts do not necessarily represent national or local Labour Party policy.

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