Thursday, 21 October 2021

Hospital parking scheme is unlawful

Hospital parking is unlawful

THE cameras used to fine scores of patients at Townlands Memorial Hospital car park are unlawful.

The Henley Standard can reveal that three cameras at the site off York Road have been operating without planning permission since they were installed more than a year ago.

Campaigners claim the system is invalid and there are calls for fines issued at the car park to be rescinded or reimbursed.

The car park is monitored by enforcement company Smart Parking, which uses the automatic numberplate recognition cameras to log drivers entering and leaving the site.

But the firm, which has faced repeated calls to be axed from the site, has only now applied for retrospective planning permission for the cameras, two of which are used to monitor the hospital car park and one at the neighbouring Chilterns Court Care Centre.

It means that the cameras were not approved by planning authority South Oxfordshire District Council before being installed in April last year. Since then, dozens of patients and their relatives have complained to the Henley Standard’s “Not Very Smart Parking” campaign about being issued with unfair fines of up to £160, with many having been sent letters threatening them with court action if they refuse to pay.

Visitors have to enter their car registration details on a keypad at reception to receive free parking and there is meant to be a 20-minute grace period for those passing through or dropping off patients.

NHS Property Services, which owns the hospital, has been urged to sack Smart Parking, which has already lost its contract for the neighbouring GP surgeries following dozens of similar complaints.

The application was submitted by Smart Parking last month and also requests permission for 20 poles at the site, two of which are used for cameras and 18 for signs detailing the parking rules.

A separate application has been made for a total of 28 new signs. The district council is due to make a decision on both next month.

Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, says Smart Parking’s failure to secure planning permission for the cameras before they were installed is another example of the company’s “incompetence and inadequacy”.

He is renewing calls for the firm to be sacked and those who have been fined to be reimbursed.

Councillor Reissmann said: “It’s hard to believe that a competent parking company would do this. I don’t agree with retrospective planning applications anyway.

“Many people have received fines which they shouldn’t have because of the inadequacy of the system. These people have been frightened into paying and I think they should be compensated. We fully accept the need to manage parking at the Townlands site and to protect those who need to use the parking spaces. There’s no question of us not supporting the principle but Smart Parking was a poorly chosen operator.”

Cllr Reissmann added that while retrospective permission may be granted for the cameras, signage at the site was covered by different laws and could result in fines of up to £2,500 for each unauthorised sign, a potential total of £70,000.

He said: “It’s a different law for advertisements in which you can’t do anything retrospective and must admit guilt for the offence.

“The notices are a lawful requirement for a parking scheme but they don’t have permission and their position there is an offence. That’s another reason why those people who have been fined should be reimbursed.”

Henley MP John Howell also believes Smart Parking should go. He said: “It’s ironic that Smart Parking has been making people’s lives a misery with the way they have handled parking tickets when they themselves are acting outside the law.

“I think it shows that Smart Parking are not the people that should be handling the contract for the car park.”

Mr Howell added that he is yet to receive a reply from Smart Parking chief executive Paul Gillespie after writing to him about his concerns over the hospital car park in February.

He said: “I still think Smart Parking should not be running the car park and I’ve had no correspondence back. They continue to ignore me as they ignore everyone else.”

A spokesman for NHS Property Services said: “We are aware of this issue and have instructed Smart Parking to rectify it as soon as possible.”

At a meeting of Henley Town Council’s town and community committee on Tuesday, Cllr Reissmann said that the steering group would be asking NHS Property Services to cancel its contract with Smart Parking at its meeting with the body on August 6.

He said: “I very much hope that with the paper we’ve presented and the issues we raised we can end up doing what the GPs did and what they also did at a health centre in Aldershot where the arrangement with Smart Parking was clearly not working.

“We will be discussing ways that they might introduce a scheme that actually works because this one is by no means unique in Smart Parking’s portfolio.

“I would like some guidance as to whether the town council would consider being involved in an enforcement scheme, as is currently the case in Aldershot, or whether that is not an option. The spaces do need managing because they were full of shoppers before the scheme came in.”

Councillor Lorraine Hillier added: “Ironically, I’m now hearing the reverse as genuine patients are parking elsewhere in the town centre because they’re so afraid of being fined!”

Cllr Reissmann was asked by resident Ian Clarke, of Cromwell Road, what action he would take to help those who were unfairly charged get refunds.

Cllr Reissmann replied: “As to the possibility of compensation, we will be asking what measures they will carry out because there are legal redresses that might be possible.

“I don’t want to hold out too much hope for that because at the moment the priority is just getting the scheme gone.

“However, we will try to ensure that anyone who paid when they shouldn’t is compensated.”

Smart Parking did not respond to a request for comment.

Last month, the Henley Standard reported that Smart Parking had been criticised by members of the hospital’s stakeholder reference group at a meeting.

At the time, Mr Reissmann said the company was “aggressive and unreasonable and unwilling to correct their mistakes”, while he also found the company difficult to contact.

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

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