Councillors Say Ombudsman Ought Strike Down Unfair Parking Permit System in Cambridge


Friday, November 2nd, 2012. 3:53am


Cambridge’s bizarre, unfair and unclear rules on parking permit eligibility might now be shaken up following a public question from resident Emma Chin raised during the open forum section of the West Central Area Committee on the 1st of November 2012.

One problem is that some properties on a street have become ineligible for parking permits because they have been built, or modified, since residents parking schemes were introduced to an area. Now many of these properties are no longer particularly new or particularly recently modified. There is also no list held by the County Council, which operates the parking scheme, of these ineligible properties. The rather bonkers Liberal Democrat anti-car policy of restricting access to parking permits has, inevitably, over the course of time, resulted in a confusing, incomprehensible, and unfair patchwork of eligibility for parking permits with some properties on a street eligible and some not. Eligibility status is due to what is now ancient history which current residents, or prospective tenants or purchasers, have little realistic chance of being in a position to find out about.

Another problem appears to be council officers selling visitor permits to those ineligible for them; as well as selling them for use not for visitors, but knowingly for use by residents ineligible for permits, in apparent contravention of the regulations (ie. the law).

Emma Chin told councillors that she had purchased a house on a road where residents are eligible for parking permits and she had been advised by officers running the parking scheme that while she could not have a parking permit because her house was a relatively new build she could purchase and use visitor permits albeit at quite a cost (around £50/month). Chin told councillors that parking officers had now decided, after a few years of taking her money, that she was abusing the scheme and they had threatened to target her car for enforcement activity if it was seen parked in residents parking bays.

Cllr Kightley, one of Emma Chin’s councillors, pursued the issue on her behalf, brandishing an letter signed by a named council parking officer which he said amounted to advising that visitors’ permits could be used as Emma Chin had. (However Chin appeared less sure there was anything really substantive in writing)

Cllrs Kightley, Brooks-Gordon and Reiner (and apparently the committee as a whole as no councillor demurred) stated that as advice had been given by officers and then rescinded there was a clear case for a making a successful complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman and the council’s rules could not be upheld if the public had been mis-advised.

Emma Chin noted that her neighbours had been told similar things by council officers, and one of their solicitors had even been told, and passed on, the same advice when conducting searches/checks prior to a house purchase.

The committee as a whole recommended that Emma Chin ought be allowed to continue to use parking permits in the way she had been advised was acceptable, and asked her ward councillor, Cllr Kightley to correspond with the county council on her behalf.

Councillors may have been swayed by an emotive argument by Chin who claimed to have been targeted by ignorant people due to her race, and that she felt unsafe walking from a few streets away back to her home as her car had been vandalised recently. If councillors get their way and an exception is made for Emma Chin because she made a persuasive case to a committee of councillors, that would create even more unfairness and inconsistency in the scheme’s application which is why I am suggesting her case may provoke a shake up of the system.

Cllr Brooks-Gordon’s Silly Suggestion

Cllr Brooks-Gordon, who is now seeking to become a Member of the European Parliament, suggested the council ought do more to ensure developers tell those they sell homes to about ineligibility for parking permits. Cllr Brooks-Gordon’s point was politely ignored by the other councillors and not taken up; it is clearly nonsense as the issue is not with those buying new-build properties, it’s with people buying properties which were at one point (since the introduction of a scheme) newly built or modified and as a result property continues to be ineligible even if it changes hands a few times and its history is not immediately obvious or easily discernible.

Cllr Whitebread

Cllr Whitebread appeared confused; she made a belated contribution to say that she often tried to get the county council to take action against those in her ward who mis-used visitor parking permits for their own vehicles but without much success.

Which Properties Are Eligible for Permits?

This case is very interesting, and could have broad implications, because not only does it appear advice given in person to individuals has been wrong, but the County Council is giving the public at large bad advice about parking permit eligibility because it does not publish a list of which properties are ineligible for permits due to them being new builds or having been modified. The information given by Cambridgeshire County Council on its website is incomplete and misleading because it, for example states all properties on Emma Chin’s street (as with many other streets) are eligible for permits within the detailed definition for the parking zone.

The entire house of cards could be demolished by a ruling from the local government ombudsman.

The County Council do publish a caveat:

Please note certain properties may not be eligible for residents’ parking permits because they have been modified after the residents’ parking scheme was introduced.

However, as I have said, they do not list those properties which are not eligible for this reason. In July 2010 I made a Freedom of Information request, in public to try and find out if the county council which operates the scheme holds a list of exempted properties but the council then stated it did not.

Traffic Regulation Orders

The law underpinning the parking permit scheme involves “Traffic Regulation Orders”. These laws are not pro-actively published, however local resident Ben Harris has been pursuing a campaign using FOI laws and related activism involving visiting the council premises in person when the council has sought to apply exemptions to withhold copies of the regulations, to try and get them in the public domain. His website is at:

http://bjh21.me.uk/traffic

While Mr Harris’ website is a fantastic resource, it is not official, and cannot be relied upon to be comprehensive and up to date, so it is all but impossible to find out what the current position is.

The key question I’ve got for Mr Harris if he reads this is where are the latest amendments to the TRO(s) which regulate parking in Cambridge. Are the TROs really being kept up to date in light of new-builds and planning permissions?

My Own Experience

Around ten years ago, when Cambridge City Council ran the parking permits scheme, I approached the council and inquired about obtaining a permit and was told I could obtain one, but to be eligible I had to change the address on my documents so they all matched up with where I was living. I duly changed the addresses, but when I returned a different officer denied me a permit. The system, and advice given by officers, has been in disarray for years.

See Also

20 comments/updates on “Councillors Say Ombudsman Ought Strike Down Unfair Parking Permit System in Cambridge

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I think it’s important to publicise what councillors have done while acting as representatives, however silly, so that the electorate can make an informed decision about re-electing them at the next election. If Cllr Whitebread wants to explain why she apparently supported making an exemption for Emma Chin while pursuing residents using visitor permits themselves in her own ward she is welcome to use the comments here to do so (it would have been ideal had she explained her stance at the meeting; what she did there was express her confusion).

  1. Ben Harris

    The relevant TRO (http://bjh21.me.uk/traffic/cea37.pdf) doesn’t explicitly list eligible or ineligible properties. Instead, there’s a list of eligible streets in Schedule 2, each with the date when residents’ parking was introduced there, and a general rule in article 17.7 that make properties ineligible based on date of construction and availability of off-street parking:

    “17.7 Any Resident or Business Proprietor of premises constructed after the date of introduction of the zone specified in Parts 2 to 12 of Schedule 2 of [sic] this Order and which has off-street parking associated with the said premises complying with Cambridge City Council’s adopted parking standards in relation to planning applications shall not be eligible for the issue of a Permit provided for in Article 17.1(a) or (b) of this Order.”

    This means that to work out whether you’re eligible for a permit you need to know when your residence was “constructed” and whether its current off-street parking provision complies with the City Council’s requirements.

    One interesting thing: the parking TROs in Cambridge were re-written in 2004. Between 1994 and 2004, the parking rules were in the Area Orders (mostly in Area A), and those (in article 88(6)) used a single cut-off date of 17th January 1994 for all streets. In 2004, the cut-off dates changed to be per-street and some became much earlier (e.g. for Collier Road it’s now 1st January 1977).

  2. Ben Harris

    A few broader comments on my collection of TROs: I try to update them once a year, so the current ones are correct as of 1st January 2012. If you need something more recent you’ll need to ask the county council. The parking orders come with a big file of maps that I haven’t even tried to copy, so if you want to know what’s permitted where you’ll have to visit Castle Court and look for yourself. One day I hope that the county council will add the content of these maps to their public GIS on http://my.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/.

  3. Ben Harris

    The reference to the City Council’s planning policy interested me. I think it’s set down in Appendix C to the Cambridge Local Plan 2006 (http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/ccm/content/planning-and-building-control/planning-policy/development-plan-for-cambridge/local-plan-2006.en). That sets maximum amounts of parking for dwellings, with the entertaining consequence that dwellings with too much off-street parking will be eligible for permits (but possibly be in breach of planning control).

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The policy is only a guideline/framework against which councillors assess individual applications; so there maybe properties with parking provision in excess of that set in the policy but which councillors have allowed for application specific reasons. In any such cases the residents of those properties do appear to be eligible for parking permits. The chances of the officers operating the scheme being aware of this though are, in my view, nil.

  4. Sarah Whitebread

    I didn’t comment on what I thought should happen in Ms Chin’s case because I think that’s something for ward councillors to take forward based on the local situation.

    I agree the parking policy needs looking at and have been calling for that for some time.

    I was not confused, and am frankly not encouraged to come on here and engage when you write things like that based on nothing , as far as I recall. If others who were at the meeting think I was confused, I would be glad to know.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Cllr Whitebread appeared to express, quite reasonable, confusion over why her calls for action against those abusing visitor parking permits were being ignored whereas the County Council were targeting Emma Chin for her alleged abuse of visitor permits. I agree it will be interesting to hear others’ views of Cllr Whitebread’s contribution.

      I disagree that Cllr Whitebread did not express a view on what ought happen in Emma Chin’s case; the decision of the committee was passed without any councillor, including Cllr Whitebread, raising an objection, by not objecting Cllr Whitebread appeared to agree with her fellow councillors, who wanted Emma Chin treated as a special case on the grounds she had been mis-informed.

  5. John Lawton

    Not expressing a view is not confusion though. The County Council has decided to offer residents of Parkside Place visitors permits against the interests of other local residents and Cllr Whitebread is justifiably furious about that. I don’t know the (seemingly arcane) rules that have made Ms Chin’s residence exempt from residence permits but the County policy is the one that’s confused, indeed if they even act according to policy in every case which isn’t guaranteed. You seem to be against restriction of parking but there are simply not enough spaces available in areas such as the Kite. The Victorian streets were never designed with parking of horseless carriages outside every residence, so restrictions are inevitable. Those who attempt to cheat the system have unfortunately resulted IME in very bureaucratic entitlement procedures being developed to try to prevent abuse.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Parkside Place is the new development on the Fire Station? In which case that appears to be yet another repeat of the kind of advice given to Emma Chin; which if there is a copy in writing then councillors appeared to think brought the whole scheme into question as a complaint to the ombundsman could be upheld.

      I don’t argue against restriction of parking in general, though I have argued against extending residents parking zones and the associated tax (charges for permits) in some areas. I want to see fair, clear and consistently applied rules.

  6. cobweb

    @John Lawton – So clearly for some places in the city (Petersfield, Romsey, Newnham, to name 3) people must, necessarily, have lowered expectations of being able to park, recognise that they need to use a bike, take the bus, walk or use a car club.

    More generally, the fact that the Council don’t keep a list of those people with parking permits is, imo, a failure of organisation. In an area like the one discussed above, doing that, and allowing a permit on the basis that there were spaces available, would have been more sensible. That way, everyone is treated equally.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    Councillors at the West/Central Area committee on the 25th of April 2013 considered an application to convert the garage at 5 Benson Street into a two bedroom dwelling. Councillors expressed surprise at the following statement from Cambridgeshire County Council, the Highways Authority, quoted in the officer report to the meeting:

    The application removes an existing garage, and will, therefore decant the demand currently accommodated by that garage onto the surrounding street, as the existing dwelling will retain full rights to Residents Parking Permits within the Residents Parking Scheme currently operating on the surrounding streets. The proposal therefore has potential to impact on the amenity of nearby residential units.

    The existing vehicular access should be removed and replaced with a full faced kerb, and the existing Traffic Regulation Order controlling the on-street parking amended to allow the parking bay to be extended across the location of the existing vehicular access.

    There was no question of the new property’s occupiers becoming eligible for residents parking permits.

    Prior to the meeting councillors had sought an assurance that the statement from the Highways Authority (The County Council) was accurate. At the meeting the planning officer confirmed the position had been checked and the position was as stated (a “de-brief note” on the planning public access file for the application confirms this).

    A number of councillors noted that allowing the occupiers of the existing property to retain their eligibility for parking permits amounted to a change in policy by the County Council which had previously taken a stance that those who build on their off road parking spaces (including garages) lose their eligibility for residents’ parking permits.

    The then Cllr Brooks-Gordon (who is no longer a councillor after losing an election since the meeting) told the meeting that councillors had not been consulted about, or even informed of, the change in policy, and that it had come as a surprise to her.

    My Views and Comments

    • I wonder if it is true that the policy has changed, rather than an exception being made in this case, taking into account perhaps factors such as:
      • The practicality of using the current garage for parking a modern car.
      • The ability to create a new on-road parking space following the garage conversion.
    • If the County Council has unilaterally changed the policy without telling anyone then it highlights the problems with having one council dealing with planning matters and another with closely related parking policy and issuing parking permits (the City Council recently handed over responsibility for issuing parking permits to the County Council). Planning and parking eligibility need to be dealt with in a co-ordinated manner; having one council for Greater Cambridge, would be one way of achieving this.
    • As noted in the main article above I’m concerned we’re setting up an unworkable, unfathomable, and unfair system involving a patchwork of eligibility for parking permits which no one is able to keep track of now, never mind in the future.
    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The Highways Authority representation perhaps ought to have said:

      as, unless a planning condition is added requiring the amendment of the existing TRO, the existing dwelling will retain full rights to Residents Parking Permits

      This would have reminded councillors taking the planning decision that it is in their power to alter parking permit eligibility, and also prompted them as to an effective mechanism for doing so (rather than adding an ineffectual condition).

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    The official minutes of Emma Chin’s question, as approved by councillors, record:

    (Q2) Emma Ching
    When purchasing a new build property in a resident only parking area Miss Ching was informed that she was not entitled to a residents permit but could purchase visitor parking permits on a weekly basis. The Parking Authority now state that this an abuse of the system and has said that her car will be targetted for enforcement action. Miss Ching has a garage but this is used for storage.

    Councillor Rosentiel stated that this was County Council Policy. New build properties are not entitiled to resident parking permits and visitor permits cannot be used in this way.

    County Councillor Whitebread stated that the key issues appeared to be the advice given pre-purchase and who gave that advice.

    Councillor Rosenstiel added that a case could be made to the Ombudsman if there was evidence of misinformation.

    Councillor Kightley agreed to look into this matter and to assist Miss Ching.

    The resident’s name is Emma Chin and it is the council, not me, who have got the name wrong.

    The minutes of the subsequent meeting report:

    12/61/WAC: Councillor Kightley had assisted Miss Chin with discussions with the County Council regarding parking permit issues.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    The individual who spoke at the West Central Area Committee has contacted me saying nothing has changed and complaining about the lack of action from councillors (and candidates). I have encouraged them to provide an update here to let everyone know what has happened.

    They also asked me to remove their name from this article.

    I’ve offered to seek to balance any concern about unwarranted substantial harm and distress against the benefits of keeping the name published [voluntarily acting as I would have to if my website was run by an organisation and my publication was not journalistic].

    I’ve noted the report in the official minutes, including the name, and have asked to be kept informed of the outcome of any effort to get the name removed from those.

    A claim of a breach of the “human right to privacy” has been made which I have responded to saying:

    A human right to privacy is generally couched as a right to a private life. Speaking at a council meeting is not something private, it is part of your civic, public, life – as is your engagement with the councils over parking on the public highway.

    I have also noted:

    I think a personal story is, unfortunately, required sometimes to get councillors to take action – I and others have drawn attention to the inconsistent and unfair parking policies in the city but it was you in-person putting your individual experience to the committee which prompted councillors there to support change. Councillors find it easier to ignore a dry and logical explanation of unfairness than they do a passionate personal story.

    The correspondence also stated this individual doesn’t want to vote after experiencing the parking problem – a reaction I find surprising – surely this kind of experience would drive people to elect better councillors who will undo the mess those we’ve had to-date have left us with.

  10. Jordy bond

    Richard

    Are you a racist and do you have a hatred towards women, especially ethnic minorities such as Chinese and women who achieve professional success? If so, is this because your mother used to come into the bathroom during your teenage years or perhaps did Auntie ‘Susan’ bought your birthday underpants from Woolworths when all the other kids got transformer toys?

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The answers to these questions are both no.

      I think the tone of the questions shows how hostile a response can be prompted by entering into discussions about how we run our society.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      If you’re referring to the transformer it’s “Optimus Prime” not “Optimum Prime”. I don’t know enough about either character to express a preference. I will delete any more nonsense comments from this individual on this thread.

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