Monday 5 August 2013

Car parking charges, Rebecca and the Barnet connection

Around about 170 years ago Carmarthenshire and some of the surrounding counties were in turmoil in what we now call the Rebecca Riots.

The Daughters of Rebecca would be called grassroots activists nowadays, as they meted out justice to racketeering landlords, Anglican clergymen who demanded their tithes from non-conformists and other representatives of the Establishment. A particular target for Rebecca and her followers was toll gates where locals were forced to pay extortionate charges as they went about their business.

Merched Beca - Rebecca's Daughters

In the end London sent in the troops, and the movement fizzled out. It did however notch up some important successes, including an act of parliament to sort out the turnpike trusts.

The racketeering landlords, greedy Anglican clergy, turnpike trusts, workhouses and Tory magistrates all have their modern counterparts: the privatised utilities, the banks, the oil companies, developers, "consultants", Virgin Trains, BT and even our local authorities, to name but a few.

Labour-led Carmarthenshire County Council is gearing up for a new wave of privatisations as it plans to deliver services in what the chief executive calls "a different way", and the council's car parking charges are the modern equivalent of the old turnpikes.

Last month residents of the London Borough Barnet won an important case in the High Court to stop their council from pushing up charges for parking permits as a way of generating extra income. The judge said that the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act "is not a fiscal measure and does not authorise the authority to use its powers to charge local residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes".

The council intends to appeal the ruling, but in the meantime it has sparked a debate over whether it is legitimate for councils to use car parking as a means of raising revenue.

Prior to the High Court ruling, the uppity residents of Barnet also took on their council over a disastrous new parking regime which introduced exorbitant pay-by-phone charges in the Borough's high streets. The introduction of this scheme led to a slump in business for traders, and culminated in the disgrace of a leading Tory councillor who assaulted the proprietor of a cafe when she filmed him flouting the charging system he himself had introduced.

The council has since abandoned the scheme.

Resident parking permits are confined to the urbanised parts of Carmarthenshire, but the council has been busily racking up other parking charges for several years.

Not all that long ago parking was free in most of the county's smaller towns, but by 2011 we were paying 40p per hour, and the County Council announced that it would be raising those charges year-on-year to 70p an hour by January 2014. No doubt plans are already being drawn up for the period after that.

A spokesperson for the English Local Government Association told Radio 4's Today Programme the other day that rises in car parking charges in many local authorities were not keeping place with inflation.

The ramping up of charges in Carmarthenshire is clearly far outstripping the rate of inflation, and we know thanks to freedom of information requests submitted by some community councillors that the County Council is making huge and growing profits from its car parks as charges escalate while maintenance is minimal.

The effect on our small towns is crippling. Why pay 60p to go and buy a loaf of bread and a newspaper in your local high street when you can park for free at a supermarket?

I wonder how Rebecca's Daughters would have reacted to this?


The London Borough of Barnet and Carmarthenshire do not on the face of it have much in common, but Barnet is where the chief executive of our county council began his ascent up the local government career ladder, and he worked alongside the brother of the doyenne of the Barnet blogging scene, Mrs Angry.

For a brief period Cneifiwr also lived in the London Borough of Barnet where he used to frequent some of the rougher, spit and sawdust drinking holes. No doubt those have all long since been gentrified, and it is unlikely that he would have bumped into the genteel Mrs Angry sipping her pint of stout in such places.

Mrs Angry contemplating the downfall of Cllr Brian Coleman

Mrs Angry and some of the other Barnet bloggers took a very close interest in the Caebrwyn libel case, and Mrs A wrote a superb series of court reports while the case was in progress. Friendships were formed, and the Carmarthenshire and Barnet bloggers now occasionally compare notes.

No doubt there will be those in County Hall who suspect that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot between the scurrilous* bloggers of Carmarthenshire and the urban sophisticates of Barnet, but the truth is that we are just not that disciplined.

* A term used by the council chief executive to describe the Carmarthenshire bloggers.


Mrs Angry said...

May I just point out that this picture is clearly not of me, as I would not be seen dead in an apron, and indeed would not know the purpose of such a garment. Thank you. And I wear glasses only for reading.

I shall get my revenge,Cneifiwr ...

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