Saturday, 13 August 2011

Barnet CPZ Action Update - Saturday 13 August 2011

Legal Proceedings

The legal action continues to progress, albeit slowly. The latest news is that Barnet Council have now submitted in their response to the claim.  It contains no surprises, although it does contain one new (or rather modified) argument.  Barnet have consistently pointed out that the profitability of the parking service has in recent years declined.  However, one thing that they seem reluctant to admit to is that in the last year (2010-2011), the profitability is forecast to increase substantially NB:  this is before the new charges came into force).  So, Barnet have raised a new argument to get around this inconvenient fact: according to Barnet, it's not that parking revenue is now declining, it's that the cost of highway repairs (and other services that are subsidised with parking money) are getting more expensive.  Barnet says that the cost of these other services has increased from £12.6 to £13.6 million and that this justifies raising CPZ charges to raise an additional £1.4 million.  But, whereas the increase in the cost other services is around 8%, the CPZ increases are up to 300%.  The simple truth is inescapable:  a bigger slice than ever before of the cost of road repairs is being paid for by CPZ residents.      

Barnet agrees that what we are arguing over is whether it is lawful for a Council to use its powers to set parking charges under the Road Traffic Regulation Act in order to raise money to pay for concessionary fares and road repairs.  Barnet says that because the Act lets them spend any parking surplus on concessionary fares and road repairs, it can hike parking charges which are already generating a big surplus in order to have more money to spend on those Borough-wide services.

We say that this is not lawful and that increased parking charges must be justified by a genuine parking related need.  For example, an increase in the charges at a car park might be warranted if it is often full with cars queueing up to get in.  If that then leads to a profit being generated, you can use that money to fill potholes elsewhere in the borough.  But you can't raise charges on a half empty car park because there are potholes that need filling.  That must be paid for by the Council Tax.
It sounds like a simple legal point but it is being hotly disputed and Barnet are fielding on the leading public law QCs in the country, James Goudie QC.  Its great news therefore than another leading QC, Martin Westgate QC, is acting for David Attfield on a "no win, no fee" basis.

Although David now has solicitors and barristers acting for him under "no win, no fee" agreements, there is still a huge amount to do in terms of fundraising if there is to be sufficient money available to meet Barnet's legal costs should he lose.  If you haven't yet done so, please donate what you can either online through our website or by sending a cheque payable to Barnet CPZ Action.  If you have made a donation, please consider whether you can give some more.   

Another CPZ legal challenge

You may have heard that Barnet recently succeeded in defending another legal challenge to the CPZ increases.  That challenge was brought by an individual without the benefit of legal advice. Unfortunately, he failed to make the key point that according to the relevant cases, a hike in parking charges must be justified by a parking related need.

What Mike Freer MP won't tell you

A number of our supporters have received letters from Mike Freer MP about the CPZ charges.  In this letter, he tries to reassure his constituents that the new charges are not too bad after all (though he does state that he considers the visitor voucher increase on top of the resident's permit increase to be "too much").

First, Mr Freer confirms that the parking service was in profit before the increases but claims that the surplus "was on a downward trend".  He supports this by highlighting an extract from the Council's 2009-2010 budget.  But this information is out of date.  Barnet Council's current budget (2011-2012) which is on the Council's website shows that the profitability of the parking service is expected to leap by over 50% when the accounts for 2010-2011 are finalised.  In other words, the downward trend had been reversed even before the increases.

Mr Freer also points out that the owner of a 1.6 litre petrol Ford Focus pays more for a permit in Westminster and Camden and pays the same in Brent as in Barnet.  But he's comparing apples and pears because all three of those local authorities base the cost of a permit on a vehicle's emissions/engine size whereas Barnet charges a flat rate whatever car you have.  Substitute a car with lower emissions (a Ford Focus 1.6 Diesel for example) and Barnet is more expensive that Camden or Brent.    

In any event, Mr Freer's data is already out of date.  The latest 1.6 petrol Ford Focus is more economical than its predecessor meaning that, using Mr Freer's examples, two of the three boroughs are cheaper than Barnet.

Mr Freer then looks at the cost of visitor vouchers and assesses the cost of visitor parking in Barnet with Mayfair of all places.  Yes, that's how hard Mr Freer had to look in order to find somewhere in London which is more expensive than Barnet!

David Attfield's claim
Barnet Council's response