Saturday, 21 July 2018

Council spends £35k on parking debate

MORE THAN £35,000 of public money has been spent to date on the row involving Bell Street parking.

MORE THAN £35,000 of public money has been spent to date on the row involving Bell Street parking.

The cost to the public purse has been much discussed since Henley Town Council first served notice to Oxfordshire County Council in October 2006.

Marlow developer Chesterton Commercial wanted to create a new layout for nine private parking spaces outside 94 to 102 Bell Street but the “stopping-up” proposal was rejected by the Department of Transport inspector following an inquiry in August.

In a Freedom of Information response to a request submitted by the Standard, the county council estimated that 431 hours of officer time had been spent on work regarding the stopping up of Bell Street to date.

The work of 12 officers at varying levels who have either worked directly on the issue or have been consulted on various aspects totals £16,378.

This time includes meetings, research, telephone conversations, letter writing, presentation preparation, cabinet preparation and site visits.

A spokesman said: “Detailed logging of time spent was not possible for many of the tasks/officers involved and therefore the figure is an estimate.

“The estimate is considered conservative and likely to be higher if detailed information was available for the whole period.

“The hours for one officer involved in the planning/stopping up enquiry are unavailable and therefore the total figures are in excess of those shown.”

In addition the cost of legal officers’ time from October 2006 to 6 February 2013 is £18,900.

The council said it did not hold recorded information about possible future legal costs.

In response to a separate request to South Oxfordshire District Council, a spokesman said: “The public inquiry related to an application by the landowner to the Secretary of State for an order stopping up part of the highway.

“South Oxfordshire District Council is not the highway authority and did not express any views on the merits of the application nor attend the public inquiry.

“The council does not hold a complete record of time spent by officers on enquiries relating to the inquiry.

“The council has been in correspondence on related local land charges issues but does not hold a complete record of time spent on this.”

Legal records showed that a total of six hours, 54 minutes of in-house solicitor time has been spent on both issues over the last three years.

The council also said that future legal costs were unknown.

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith said: “The £35,278 cost to the county council so far could, and should, have been better spent in Henley on a whole range of environmental and community projects such as providing a lot of the road schemes which the town council’s Traffic Advisory Committee wants, maintaining our roads and helping the youth of Henley.

“And for what? Because the town council did not show a willingness to negotiate for the best interests of all the Henley residents, we are losing five parking spaces and keeping a privately owned green space which was never in danger of being lost.

“The resulting displacement of vehicles will put even more pressure on the already scarce available on-street parking.

“But the opportunity given to the town council to discuss a fair and balanced compromise round the table was not taken up.

“Chestertons offered the green triangle in place of the highway. The green triangle is still in private ownership. Is this really the community victory so recently proclaimed?

“At least the town council has now met with the county council to discuss the what and wherefore of the inquiry decision - something I called for some time ago.”

Cllr Nimmo Smith said the only “real winners” are lawyers, who would decide the final cost to the public purse.

He said: “There is certain to be litigation involving Chestertons and those who bought parking spaces.

“The issue has split the immediate community. The county council took independent advice, which suggested that the highway land in question could be stopped up, but this resulted in a town council veto.”

Councillor Will Hamilton added: “Undoubtedly the costs would have been much less had Henley Town Council taken the ‘common sense view’ and negotiated a compromise (as all the Conservatives said they should do) and not proceed with a public inquiry.

“Unfortunately, Cllrs Gawrysiak and Reissmann steered a different course for Henley Residents Group, which has led to this erroneous position, what they have left can only be described as a ‘lawyers pavlova.’

“I would much rather this money was spent on good causes for Henley, it is after all the public purse that HRG has compromised.”

Councillor Ian Reissmann said: “Maintaining assets for the benefit of the public does involve some cost and Oxfordshire County Council have to catch up on a 20 year backlog.

“The fact that we are now getting a road layout which is safe, attractive and provides parking for any resident of the town is a good thing.

“It’s a shame that some of the money spent by the county council involved going down the dead end of a stopping up order, which was decisively rejected by the Inspector.

“The end result is excellent for the people of Henley and Henley Town Council welcome this.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “The important part of the Inspector’s report was that the proposed scheme was completely unsafe. Having cars driving on a pavement, feet away from residents front door’s should not happen.

“The county council is now implementing a safe parking arrangement and that is to be welcomed. As this area is public highway-this should have happened years ago. Some of this money would have been spent anyway looking after this historic part of Henley.”

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