We are told that many of the proposals before us are not cuts at all, but ‘transformation’, some supposedly motivated by environmental concern, and that they would have been planned even if the finances were not in disarray.
If that is true, what kind of council would willingly vote to close Children’s Centres, like the Lawns in my ward? If money were not the main concern, who on earth would slash universal services, which could provide local, easily accessible support to families or deliberately price people out of using their town centres?
I find it very hard to believe that the administration didn’t know that we were headed for serious financial difficulty . Like that famous iceberg, they should have seen it coming. Members of the opposition certainly warned that we were heading into choppy waters but were ignored — ‘RBWM is an unsinkable ship’, came the cry.
Yet it was only in January last year that the Conservatives announced on social media that they’d “crunched the numbers” and that parking prices would be frozen for residents. Charges were changed on a political whim by the previous administration and even formed the basis of one of their manifesto promises. How things change in a year! Now the numbers just don’t add up and it’s one more broken promise.
Residents already feel they get very little for their council tax and the parking discount is wildly popular — as demonstrated by the speed in which residents signed the petition calling for it to be saved. At the close of the petition it had been signed by over 7000 people.
The lead member claims that these changes bring fairness to the system. That’s disingenuous. There is no equity when residents parking in Maidenhead will experience an 83% price increase but if they drive down the A308 to park in Windsor, they will pay 340% more than at present.
We all know that car parking rates are much higher in Windsor than other places in the borough, capturing the passing tourist trade-day trippers with no choice but to pay the inflated prices. But removing the Advantage card means that RBWM residents must pay over the odds in order to visit the doctor, to shop, go to work and carry out other essential tasks. Bar staff at Wetherspoons in Windsor earn the same as in Maidenhead but will have to pay a huge amount more to be able to travel home safely after a shift. Perhaps some members who benefit from free parking permits for late night meetings don’t appreciate how important this is.
To claim this change is environmentally motivated is laughable. Like many people mindful of climate change, I try to use my car less and travel on public transport more, but subsided bus routes are about to be cut and the ones we do have are inconvenient and slow. Like many people, I can’t afford to buy a new electric car to benefit from free parking, however, I am glad to see you’ve adopted one of the Lib Dem manifesto ideas. The message from the Conservatives seems to be: use your car less but just enough to make us some money.
It is questionable whether removing this benefit will even bring in the £650K saving. If the cost of parking becomes prohibitively high, for people with no alternative but to drive, they will avoid our towns altogether and go elsewhere.
Maidenhead is in a state of flux and needs to avoid losing trade during its rejuvenation. Windsor is losing shops by the day — Next, New look, Top Shop and Lakeland are some of the big names who have gone elsewhere in recent months. Reducing footfall is the last thing we need.
We have a problem and we need solutions. Solutions that don’t punish our residents. It is regretful that alternative suggestions from opposition councillors to maintain a limited discount for locals have been dismissed. A member of the public offered another idea- of a paid subscription scheme for drivers to buy an annual discount. This would bring in some income up front before they’ve even parked. Perhaps a reasonable flat hourly rate could be applied to all RBWM car parks, bringing in income from those which are currently free and spreading the load a little.
It seems the promised collegiate approach doesn’t extend to parking and it has been left too late for any alternatives to be reasonably explored.
So here we are, being asked to remove the Children’s Centre life-rafts and forcing residents to bail us out of our parking problem, while the icy waters of government intervention start to swill around our feet, threatening to drown us all.
Residents didn’t cause this financial mess. They don’t deserve this financial mess. But they are the ones paying for it.