The Chair stated that a statement from a member of the public had been accepted and he invited Mr Cansdale to speak. Mr Cansdale read out his statement:
“Unfair Tax on Outdoor Sport and Lifestyles
I believe that our local parks and recreation grounds contribute to healthy living and residents should be encouraged to visit them and should not be deterred by car parking charges. It is my understanding that Council policy is to encourage outdoor activity as part of a healthy lifestyle.
My concern is that the car park charging will drive away organised sport from the venue as club members may choose to participate elsewhere at one of several venues where sport is played in Thurrock and where it is free to park. Or they may choose not to play at all. Teams do not pay for car parking at ‘away’ fixtures and it is likely Thurrock teams will be ostracised by leagues and competitions, potentially leading to expulsion and social division.
Essentially, Thurrock Council is proposing that a very small sub-set of the population of Thurrock, which uses Ockendon Recreation Ground very frequently, will be paying a very heavy price for repeated visits as Council looks to gain additional revenue to recover the reported £34.3m funding gap and we would suggest that contributions to close this gap are made across the whole Thurrock community, not via these proposed car parking charges, so that an unfair and disproportionate financial burden on our membership can be avoided.
I wish to point out that the statutory guidance for local authorities on enforcing parking restrictions from HM Government, section 2.1, states that ‘Enforcement authorities should not view it in isolation or as a way of raising revenue”.
HM Government’s Sports Strategy
The report appears to be contrary to HM Government’s Sports Strategy, published in December 2015, with the mantra of ‘a new strategy for an active nation’. The first key heading for a series of 23 performance indicators is ‘More People taking part in Sport and Physical Activity’. I suggest that, in Thurrock, this objective will not be met if Council erect pay and display equipment in the car parks of local recreation grounds, such as that planned at Ockendon.
Objectives of DCMS Renewal Taskforce
On 20th May 2020, the DCMS announced the creation of this taskforce, chaired by The Right Hon. Oliver Dowden CBE MP, with the view of ensuring that sport and culture can re-open successfully in the post-covid era. I believe this is part of HM Government’s pledge to ‘Build Back Better’. I therefore suggest that charging to park vehicles at Ockendon Recreation Ground is contrary to the objectives of HM Government, the DCMS and its renewal taskforce.
Thurrock Council’s Active Place Strategy
This strategy was adopted by Cabinet at its meeting held on 13th January 2021. A Council member in recommending the report for adoption, said: “Sports will be at the centre of the new local plan and this report will help to increase sport uptake across the Borough”. I ask the current Cabinet members to consider that introducing car parking charges at Ockendon Recreation Ground will not meet the expectations of the Active Place Strategy and participation of outdoor sport at Ockendon will diminish as a result.
Similar Recreation Grounds in Thurrock
I am of the opinion that to introduce car parking charges at Ockendon Recreation Ground would be unfair. It is the only playing field of its type which is earmarked for charges; all other venues remain free of charge. How can this be fair? For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that charges should be inflicted across the area.
Self-Maintenance of Sports Pitches at Ockendon Recreation Ground
Thurrock Council had previously advised that, due to budgetary constraints, sports clubs would have to maintain their own sports pitches with effect from April 2021. This has been fully complied with at Ockendon Recreation Ground. It should be recognised that those actions will save hundreds of thousands of pounds over the next two decades or so, yet playing field users at Ockendon are paying a heavy price for the costs of grounds maintenance equipment to replace the equipment previously used by Council operatives. I consider it an insult for sports club members who stay at the ground to carry out this work on a daily basis to then be charged to park their vehicles.
Incorrect Nomenclature of Venue
The report initially refers to “South Ockendon Recreational Centre” and this incorrect naming was recently reported as such on a BBC News website item. I consider this to be highly misleading and indicates potential concealment of the proposal. I wish to point out that clarity of proposals to the public is referenced within section five of the statutory guidance for local authorities on enforcing car parking restrictions issued by HM Government.
Further, part 2.7 of the report encourages ‘a large turnover of vehicles’. I consider this to be wholly inappropriate for Ockendon Recreation Ground which is a small, basic public park and not in any way a ‘Recreational Centre’, which implies multiple single visits from across the region.
Reducing Anti-Social Behaviours
I reject the notion of part 2.4 from the report which states that ‘the lack of parking enforcement also means these car parks do not receive regular patrols leaving these areas more prone to abandoned vehicles, fly tip, traveller incursions, ASB and nuisance behaviour’. Insofar as Ockendon Recreation Ground is concerned, I believe that the reverse is true. I say that a car parking charge would deter proper usage of the park leading to more problems, not less. The vigilance of our members has, in the past, resulted in successful outcomes from their reporting of a wide range of occasional anti-social behaviour at our venues, such as racist chanting and graffiti, drug use, fly-tipping, vandalism and motor bike incursion, most of which would otherwise have been unreported.
When, for example, a local sports club had to move away from another Thurrock public park due to Council spending cuts in the mid-1990’s, drug dealing replaced cricket and the local crime rate went up. Hardly a co-incidence, I would suggest. Please do not make this mistake at South Ockendon.
Perceived Contradiction of Funding Requirements
I note that there appears to be a contradiction with the proposal document. On page one, it is clear from the Executive Summary that Council needs to remedy the funding gap over the next two financial years as a basis for introducing additional car park charging. However, on page seven, a senior management accountant has recorded that car parking income can only be used for car parking purposes and has to be ring-fenced for that sole purpose. But I question whether the estimated annual income of £159,964 is far in excess of what the actual maintenance costs are for each of the four venues highlighted in the report.
Lack of Clarity over Issuing of Permits to Sports Clubs
I recognise that there is a reference to members being able to obtain permits, but it is unclear at this stage how this would be organised and my enquiries have not found any evidence that such a scheme is being planned. There is also visiting ‘away’ teams to consider, as well as match officials, caterers, coaches/managers and maintenance staff. In cricket, the match day captain certainly has enough to do, without trying to organise car parking permits. If the home team captain is also the ‘adult in charge’, this could lead to a safeguarding issue if he or she has to leave the field to issue a temporary permit to a visiting latecomer. In cricket, I should clarify that it is acceptable for adults and children to play in the same team, subject to minimum age and appropriate consent.
I believe that charging for car parking at Ockendon Recreation Ground will only lead to congestion and inconvenience for local residents where road parking is allowed and uncontrolled.
In scrutinising this report today, I trust you will be able to recommend that it is rejected. Thank you.”
The Chair invited officers to respond.
In regards to crime and Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB), Phil Carver said that Civil Enforcement Officers were trained to identify and report ASB which they did. An option to reduce ASB was through the use of Automatic Number Plate Readers (ANPR) which was widely known to reduce crime as it was able to trace vehicles to owners.
In regards to sports recreation, Jahur Ali said that the service had consulted with the sports clubs. There would be a permit scheme for clubs with fixtures so they would not be charged. At the South Ockendon recreational ground, the service had identified a designated parking area that would be used for the sports clubs to park in without charge. There were multiple options that could be considered to ensure that clubs continued to use the facilities.
The report was presented by Phil Carver.
Referring to the designated parking space at South Ockendon recreational ground, Councillor Kelly queried the number of car parking spaces available there and how the ANPR system would work within this area. He also asked whether the service would consider not charging on one of the days in the car park. Jahur Ali replied that the area would fit around 30 cars but would need some work to be undertaken to bring it up to standard, if the proposal in the report were to be approved. He said that the area would be gated to prevent other non-club users from parking there. In regards to using an ANPR system in the area, he explained that the clubs would manage this by adding vehicle number plates into the system that were allowed to park in the area. On the car park charging, Phil Carver explained that the car park charges were proposed for 7 days a week.
Councillor Watson asked whether the works in the designated parking space in the South Ockendon recreational ground would be undertaken before the car park charges started. She pointed out that the area could be resurfaced with tarmac to allow the club users to use this before the charges began. She asked whether parents of the children who used the clubs would be charged and whether the charges could be at a lower rate on the weekends. She was concerned that people would not use the clubs if they had to pay for car parking.
Officers replied that the service had a quote for the works to be undertaken in the designated parking space of the South Ockendon recreational ground. They explained that the area already had tarmac and was being used by the clubs. The parents could also use the designated space. In regards to lower charges at weekends, officers said that this could be considered.
Councillor Kerin noted that the charges were to reduce ASB but stated that he agreed with Mr Cansdale in that the more people that used car parks was a deterrence in ASB itself. He commented that the proposed charges was to bridge the Council’s £34k financial gap and the charges was a burden on people who wanted to use the sports clubs for their kids to play sports. Phil Carver explained that the proposed charges were for the maintenance of the car parks and to deter ASB.
Thanking Mr Cansdale for his statement, Julie Rogers said that this would help to inform the service of how to proceed forward. She explained that this would go through a full TRO process which lasted around 12 weeks and the service would work with the sports clubs. She stated that the charges would not start until the designated parking space was ready. In regards to the income from the car park charges, these would be ring fenced back to maintaining the car parks only.
In regards to the charges for Coalhouse Fort and One Tree Hill, Councillor Kelly commented that it was not unusual to see charges for these areas as this was common in Essex Country Parks. Referring to the charges proposed for Tamarisk Road, he questioned which area of this road the charges would be for. Phil Carver answered that the service had undertaken an exercise on this road which had suggested that the number of vehicles parking on this long stretch of road were from commuters. He said that it would be commuters that would be paying the charges and residents would have permits.
The Chair queried whether the service had the authority to charge in Langdon Hills Country Park. Officers advised that the land crossed council borders and there was a management agreement in place, which was to be reviewed at the request of Essex County Council (ECC). Officers explained that the car park was maintained by Thurrock Council and that two of the service’s rangers managed and patrolled the entire site. Car parking charges would form part of the renegotiation of the Management Agreement and ECC would be included in the consultation process.
Referring to the South Ockendon recreational ground, the Chair stated that he was also concerned over the charges as people also used the car park for visiting the cemetery as well. He thought that ANPR would be beneficial and agreed with MR Cansdale that paper permits would not be ideal as it was harder to manage. He said that he could understand the reasons for the charges but the sports club needed to be helped first and would prefer to see those changes in place prior to any charges being implemented.
Councillor Kelly stated that he wanted to see a reduced charge on one of the days of the week or on weekends. He said that the ANPR system should be tested first if it was to be used for the designated space at South Ockendon recreational ground. He stated that he did not want to see double yellow lines to be introduced anywhere around the roads leading to the car parks as this would cause parking issues around that area.
Referring to the recommendations, Councillor Kerin stated that he had considered the proposals but he did not support the recommendation to Cabinet. Councillor Watson agreed with him and also did not support the recommendations.
The Chair, Councillor Kelly and Carter supported recommendation 1.1.
To consider the proposal, in view of the Medium Term Financial Plan and efficiencies required to meet a balanced budget, and support the recommendation to Cabinet to create additional pay and display facilities and car parks in Thurrock.