Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Parking firm is ‘untruthful, aggressive, unreasonable’

Parking firm is ‘untruthful, aggressive, unreasonable’

HEALTH chiefs are under growing pressure to sack the company responsible for enforcing car parking at Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley.

Smart Parking was lambasted by members of the hospital’s stakeholder reference group at a meeting on Tuesday.

One said the firm should be replaced while others called the parking system, which was introduced in April last year, a “shambles” and a “disaster”.

It follows dozens of complaints by patients and relatives about being unfairly fined at the hospital’s car park off York Road, as highlighted by the Henley Standard’s Not Very Smart Parking campaign.

The company has already lost its contract for the neighbouring GP surgeries following dozens of similar complaints.

NHS Property Services, which owns the site, says it has demanded improvements from the company but the health body's representative pulled out of the meeting at short notice.

Smart uses automatic number plate recognition cameras to log vehicles entering and leaving the car park and visitors have to enter their registration details on a keypad at reception to receive free parking. There is also meant to be a
20-minute grace period.

Town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group and is a member of the reference group, said: “It’s clear that this system, this technology, had failed to do the job.

“It’s been over a year and it is not working properly and if they can’t get it right in that time they will never get it right. It’s also difficult to use. The company is aggressive — they send out misleading and untruthful letters which scare people into paying. The charges are extortionate — why are they charging £100?

“The financial model is flawed. With every single charge notice the money goes to Smart Parking so is it any surprise that they are aggressive and unreasonable and unwilling to correct their mistakes?

“The notices are unlawful and NHS Property Services have been told about this. They need advertising consent which they have not got. This is an organisation which does not follow the law.”

Cllr Reissmann said a new system should be put in place, such as a receptionist at the hospital or the Hart and Bell surgeries issuing a ticket for a specific period which visitors could place on their dashboard and wardens employed to monitor the town’s other car parks could monitor.

He said this would be “simple, cheap and fair” and that he would be recommending the option to the town council.

Cllr Reissmann accused Smart Parking of being an “impenetrable” organisation that was difficult to contact and “unaccountable”.

Janet Waters, of the Bell Surgery patient participation group, said: “I think it’s an absolute shambles and it is damaging the reputation of an excellent hospital.”

Robert Aitken, patient representatve, said the National Motorists Action Group had complained to Henley MP John Howell about Smart Parking and specifically Townlands.

He clained the company was responsible for “numerous” transgressions, not just over the issuing of tickets but the rules and the way it enforced them.

He also questioned figures provided by NHS Property Services for the meeting which showed that the number of penalty charge notices issued each month had fallen by 38 per cent between December and May.

Mr Aitken said: “All of the anecdotal evidence does not suggest that. One asks oneself who provided these statistics? How confident are we that they are accurate?”

In a report, NHS Property Services said there had been “technical problems” with the system.

Patients and visitors had registered their vehicle details incorrectly despite their best efforts but fines had also been issued when users had apparently used the system correctly.

Complainants had also had difficulties with the appeal process and in contacting Smart Parking.

The report said: “NHS Property Services has interceded on many occasions and has successfully revoked a number of incorrectly issued fines. We are [aware] of these issues, we are listening and we are focused on solutions.”

Mr Aitken said: “This is a catalogue of errors and disasters. They should not be monitoring it, they should be revoking it. I’m completely unconvinced that this is being treated with the seriousness it deserves. The external evidence is pretty clear.”

Dick Fletcher (Hart Surgery PPG) said: “The whole thing is a disaster. I feel very strongly that NHS Property Services have a duty of care to us as a community to provide a system that works and it would not be very difficult to provide one. These matters have been raised time and time again.”

Roger Dickinson, who chairs the group, said members were “very disappointed” that NHS Property Services service delivery manager Chris Hill had cancelled his scheduled attendance at the meeting.

The group agreed that Mr Aitken, Mr Fletcher and Cllr Reissmann should draft a letter to Mr Hill asking for an urgent meeting.

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