Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The issue of car parking in Boston is one that simply will not go away – and the more our local leaders try to persuade us that it’s a good thing to charge drivers for the privilege, the more the debate rages.
The latest argument comes from the town’s car parking Czar, Councillor Derek Richmond, whose sympathy towards motorists ranks alongside that of Judge Jeffreys towards the accused at the Bloody Assizes.
One thing that is never going to work where parking issues are concerned is to play the poverty card – although Councillor Richmond has not let this stand in his way.
“Boston Borough Council has limited means to raise money to pay for the services it provides, and, in the current difficult financial climate, balancing revenue with expenditure becomes harder and harder,” he tells us in the pages of the local “newspapers.”
Against a backdrop of dwindling resources, we are told that money raised from council car parks “is important” – i.e. without it the council wouldn’t have any.
But the problem is that after years of selling off  its assets, the civic car parks are now more or less the only egg remaining in the council’s basket.
Year in, year out, as summer follows spring, Boston Borough Council ups its car parking charges.
Whilst councillor Richmond concedes that it would be “brilliant” to make all parking free, “more than £1 million a year in lost revenue says we cannot.
“There is simply not the means to make up that amount of money, and I am sure we would be heavily criticised however we tried to make up that sort of shortfall.”
We have a problem with an argument such as this, as it implies the automatic conclusion that “making up a shortfall” can only be achieved by increasing charges.
In fact, Councillor Richmond reinforces this idea by saying that people who do not use the car parks would rightly complain if asked to subsidise those who did.
But we wonder whether anyone, at any time, has called a brainstorming session to see if there are ways that the council could generate income by means other than simply robbing the council taxpayer even more.
Councillor Richmond says that car parking charges in Boston are reasonable, comparable and, in some instances, cheaper than in neighbouring towns.
However, a look at our nearest neighbour – Spalding, in South Holland District – suggests that broadly speaking, it cheaper to park there.
Comparing the SHDC website with that of Boston, parking in the Sheep Market – Spalding’s equivalent of the Market Place – is 50p for half an hour and 80p for an hour. In Boston, the charges are listed at 60p and £1.40p.
Again, the price of a seasons ticket in Spalding is either £220 a year or £260 depending where you park – whilst a year’s parking charge in Boston is £328.
And whilst we don’t know what the score is in South Holland, we do know that councillors and council staff in Boston enjoy free parking – at a cost to the local taxpayer of more than £100,000 – a perk that they will not withdraw despite the criticism and unpopularity that it brings.
Councillor Richmond says that some places quoted as providing free parking are not council-owned car parks but run by stores and supermarkets – citing Asda, Tesco Currys and Downtown in Boston as examples   – even though three of these are well out of town, and therefore irrelevant to his argument
One interesting compromise in Boston might be to allow free short term parking – i.e. 30 minutes’ worth –in the Market Place in Boston.
There are very few parking spaces here to begin with – so the loss of revenue would be minimal.
Such a decision would help people who need to use the Market Place for a visit to the bank – although the queues in some of them might require a longer stay than half-an-hour – or people who just want to make a quick visit in their lunch break.
This would be beneficial both to the town centre and to the council, and would be seen asa concession by the council that might defuse much of the anger over its intractability.   
Councillor Richmond declares that: “It has never been my intention to be unjust or unfair to any part of the population …”
But events do not support his argument – witness the charges imposed on disabled blue badge holders and his laughable 30 minute “concession” to them.
As we said earlier, an imaginative leadership might well be able to brainstorm money raising ideas that didn’t involve highway robbery.
But then, brains seem sadly lacking amongst those who claim to be our rulers.


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