Paul Arnott www.exmouthjournal.co.uk
I’d like to take you back this week, to 2010.
How many of you remember what you were doing that year?
To me, family photos reveal it as the year before I was unwell and had a full head of brown hair rather than today’s wisps of grey.
At a national level, some other hints may help. A new programme stormed the ITV schedules, Downton Abbey. A young couple, Prince William and Ms Kate Middleton, became engaged.
And we had a new PM, David Cameron. 2010 – does that ring a few bells now?
At a more prosaic level, 2010 was the last time that East Devon District Council changed the charges to use its car parks. Twelve years ago.
Moreover, in the intervening time, a high rate of VAT has been applied to those charges, so now a good chunk of the takings does not even reach the council, but ends up in the Chancellor’s coffers.
This Conservative strategy, together with artificially suppressing council tax for a full half decade, pleased their national masters – look, they said, we can provide services in a low tax setting.
The problem is that the laws of mathematics cannot be influenced by political hubris. And now the pigeons have come home to roost.
Therefore, over the last few years, EDDC has been reviewing our car park charges. We have found that compared to the rest of the south west they are very low and now another memorable year in history has made that completely unsustainable – 2020: the Year of Covid.
The effects of 2020 on what is a very well-run council have been many and devastating.
Take just one example. The positive news has been the extraordinary rise in people coming to our great resorts to visit, both as staycationers, and for day trips.
The bad news is, for example, that fish and chips these days are not wrapped in old newspaper, but in cardboard boxes the size of a large handbag.
The cost to us in frantically emptying our overflowing seafront bins has been huge and, as I have written before, our debt to our Streetscene workers, in a pandemic and short of labour post-Brexit, has also been huge. As have been the costs!
So, in 2022, your council can no longer afford to pull the wool over our residents’ eyes. The car parks need to pay their way.
Therefore, for a small selection of prime seaside car parks, the hourly charge will rise to £2 per hour (subject to full council’s approval) but with a maximum tariff so a family can come down from Exeter for a day trip to Exmouth, Beer, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton or Sidmouth for a day out with safe parking for £8.
The tourism economy will not suffer.
Crucially, and forgive me if I try to really stress this repeatedly, council tax payers (i.e. locals) can park all day and all night, for £120 per year. Getting on for 5,000 of you already take advantage of this, and we will promote the idea further.
This really does need stressing, because while Facebook feeds will resound with ‘the b***dy council wants to rob us of £2 per hour’, the reality is that local people can park for £2.31 PER WEEK.
A valued council colleague described this as ‘cheap as chips’, and having looked at all the charges across the south west, this is the case.
Other charges in prime or busy locations will go to £1.50 per hour, again with a maximum of £8 per day. And again, permits are available to keep the maximum cost at £120 per year, and we are busily introducing the software to enable people to buy for £10 per individual month. It’s already a popular and inexpensive (relative to other motoring costs) scheme.
We don’t expect thanks for all this, but this it is the long overdue and honest thing to do.