Greg Smith: Labour’s diesel stealth tax won’t improve air quality

gregsmithCllr Greg Smith is Leader of the Conservative Group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council. This is his speech to last night’s Council meeting

We all remember the days when the party opposite would decry stealth taxes: but now we see in the cold light of administration, that they actually love them.

Their slogan of doing things “with” residents, now heavily caveated to say only if they agree with – in this instance – residents’ choice of vehicle.

Now I firmly believe that the job of local government is to work to ensure we make residents lives easier. In a borough as densely populated as ours, parking will always be at a premium. But it is equally my conviction that far from nanny state finger wagging at those who’s cars and vans you don’t like, we as a council should simply seek to help people and their visitors park as close to their front door as possible, no matter what they drive.

Furthermore, this new found hatred of diesel is somewhat surprising, given that the last Labour Government, egged on by the European Union, went out of their way to ENCOURAGE people to buy diesel cars.

So, why are we on this side, opposed to this additional tax on diesel car and van owners.

Firstly, because it is nonsensical from an environmental perspective. Diesel cars are simply not the worst offenders for putting nitrogen dioxide and nitrous oxide into the air. The worst offenders are aircraft and heavy goods vehicles, with buses and black cabs also contributing. The Council should look at other positive ideas, that may actually work, rather than just taxing hard working families and individuals. For example, gas boilers contribute approximately 12 per cent of London’s nitrous oxide emissions, which equally contribute to nitrogen dioxide. A London Boiler Cashback Scheme was launched by Mayor Boris Johnson in February 2016, providing £400 cashback to households that replaced the oldest, most polluting boilers with the newest and cleanest models. Funding of £2.6 million was allocated to the scheme, which provided for 6,500 owner occupiers and accredited private landlords to benefit from the scheme. An extension of this scheme would allow greater nitrogen dioxide savings to be achieved and more households to benefit from lower bills.

Secondly, because this stealth tax it makes no financial sense. What on earth is an extra £20 or £30 a year on the price of a permit going to achieve when the cost of changing a car will cost people a minimum of thousands of pounds if not tens of thousands? And the people who can least afford it, those who rely on their small van for work, or modest car to ferry the kids about, will be hit the hardest. That extra £20 or £30 a year will really hurt many of our residents, who need their vehicle, worked hard to get it and maintain it, and are taxed enough already on fuel, their road fund license and frankly, the current rate of parking permits.

Thirdly, bizarrely from a party who are supposed to be about fairness and the redistribution of wealth, because it is deeply unfair to those who can least afford to change their vehicle AND beneficial to the owners of more expensive, fuel inefficient cars.

Indeed, without really wanting to channel Neil Kinnock, we must ask ourselves, why is it, that a Labour Council, is taxing the owner of a diesel Ford Fiesta on Crookham Road in my ward more, but the £119,000, 16 feet long Porsche Cayenne Turbo S parked next to it gets a tax break by still only paying £119 a year, despite taking up five feet more in length! Or perhaps they are proud of wanting to charge the owner of the 75mpg Skoda Fabia on Mimosa Street more to park, but the £132,000, 15mpg, 550hp, 5.0 Litre V8 Supercharged Petrol, Range Rover SV Autobiography parked next to it less.

Is that what the Labour Party has become? Champion of the supercar? Promoter of the Porsche? Friend of the Ferrari? All great cars, but it just doesn’t add up with what they say they are trying to achieve.

To be generous, Labour are confused on this matter. To be more accurate, I think they are engaged on a mission of spite – desperate for a headline, but without and substance or foundation.

Give it a rethink guys. If you want to help the environment, there is so much more you could have done.

Hundreds of residents have their cars towed away unnecessarily

From this week residents in Hammersmith and Fulham going through the miserable and expensive procedure of recovering their car after it has been towed away by the Council will no longer have to visit Barclay Road in Fulham – instead they must go to the Lots Road Car Pound, 63 Lots Road, London, SW10 0RN.

But is it really necessary for so many to have to make the journey. I think the Council are to quick to tow away vehicles. It should be a last resort. Someone who forgets to move their car on a Monday morning before 9am should get a ticket but not get towed away.

I have been sent a breakdown of the figures. The 754 people who cars were towed for being “parked in a restricted street during prescribed hours” (between April to September this year) probably feel the Council behaved disproportionately. It is reasonable to issue a ticket and charge them the £40 penalty charge. It is unreasonable to remove the car and charge an extra £200 to let them have it back.

Astonishingly this draconian policy is not actually a money spinner for the Council – due the cost of maintaining the “service”.

Here are the Council’s answers to my queries:

The revenue in the last 12 months from fines from motorists whose vehicles we have towed away.

The total income from removals between 1 October 2015 and 30 September 2016 was £435,065.  This includes the PCN fee, removal fee and any storage fees.

The cost to the Council of towing away cars in the past 12 months.

Approximately £700,000. This includes the cost for the whole removal operation including pound administration.

How many cars have been towed away in the past 12 months.

We removed 1116 cars and relocated 2381.

Sometimes there will be abandoned vehicles – or vehicles parked in a way that causes real danger or genuinely serious obstruction. So sometimes they will need to to be towed away. What seems to me to be the case is that this should be scaled down to the minimum required. Absent minded motorists who are responsible for some minor technical infringement should not be fleeced and treated like criminals. Nor should Council Taxpayers face a bill of £265,00o a year – even after the revenue from these hefty penalties has been gathered in.

The current arrangements is needlessly misery inducing. It needs to be drastically curtailed.

 

 

 

Cllr Caroline ffiske: Update on Olympia traffic problems

ffiskeCllr Caroline ffiske writes

Here is an update from Council Officers on the Council’s work to solve the traffic problems around Olympia.  This is taken directly from an email providing the update.  All comments please send to carolineffiske@gmail.com and I will forward to the relevant council officers.

Olympia

Following the meeting that was held on 15th October 2015 Olympia have indicated that they are making some immediate changes to their event procedures. Officers were of the view that these changes would produce some immediate improvements in particular to the traffic congestion in the surrounding area.

ACTIONS: Both Highways and Environmental Health will be regularly visiting the venue in the lead up to Christmas to monitor traffic management.

 

Olympia Way

Olympia Way is not public highway and residents may not be fully aware of this because there are no road barriers to suggest that it is private land. This does mean that the Council has no powers to enforce against parked or waiting vehicles on Olympia Way and the owners are required to take their own measures in relation to enforcement as the usual legislation that we rely on does not apply. Olympia are legally entitled to close Olympia Way although as far as we are aware this does not occur regularly. They have agreed to explore the redevelopment of Olympia Way to facilitate vehicle holds and ongoing discussions will be held on this.

ACTIONS: Officers and Olympia will resurrect efforts with TFL to increase the opening of the district line to Olympia for large events as that would ease traffic congestion.

 

Council records

Across all of the service areas there have been relatively few recorded complaints about issues at Olympia. However, we will continue to collate our records so that we have a clearer picture of any long term trends. We are also exchanging information between Council departments so that all officers concerned are aware of the wider issues. Over the next few weeks we are compiling data every Monday, Thursday and Friday around the area.

Environmental Health

ACTIONS: Officers are carrying out an in depth review of Olympia’s risk assessments to ensure they are fit for purpose and that they are being implemented correctly. In particular they will be examining the arrangements for stewarding and for the vehicle – pedestrian segregation on site for small, medium and large events.

 

Highways

Six additional events per year will require the one way system to be put in place in addition to the London International Horse Show. The one way system has historically worked well when used for this Horse Show event and it was on this basis that it was rolled out to accommodate the additional events.  The one way system is able to be introduced through the implementation of a Temporary Traffic Management Order (TMO) which allows sections of Blythe Road and Maclise Road to be made one way and for waiting restrictions in other nearby roads to be amended. The TMO provides flexibility in terms of how the one way system is managed. It does not require the one way system to be put in place for the full duration of the additional events. Officers have already discussed with Olympia the need to only implement the one way system on targeted dates rather than the entire license period of the events. Olympia has agreed to take the TMO down when not in use and only deploy it when necessary.

ACTIONS: Officers will review whether these arrangements are fit for purpose. It is important to monitor the arrangements so as to establish whether it is a deficiency in the TMO or  whether it is the implementation of the TMO by Olympia and their management arrangements in particular of the traffic intake. The TMO expires on 31 December 2015 and Officers will be reviewing whether additional elements need to be included before drafting a new TMO to cover the following calendar year’s list of events. They will also continue to work with Olympia to reduce the amount of time the one way system is in place for events.

ACTIONS: A review of the traffic calming arrangements in the Blythe Road area is included in the Council’s transport Local Implementation Plan for 2016/17.

Parking

The Highways Team will be conducting a parking consultation with the two CPZ immediately to the North and South of Olympia respectively. This consultation will be going live on the 2nd November 2015. The consultation covers the introduction of weekend controls in the two zones.

Olympia have indicated they are prepared to help with the cost of enforcement officers and this will be explored further.

Officers will also be reviewing the waiting and loading restrictions on Maclise Road and Blythe Road as part of a current programme this year to review amendments to signs and lines in the area.

ACTIONS: The parking consultation will provide important feedback on the wishes of the population of that area and officers will review the results and present recommendations to the Cabinet Member.

 

General

Extra CCTV cameras may be able to be added to the Hammersmith Road stretch where there are currently none as works on this road will take place early in 2016. This would enable the Council to monitor traffic levels and congestion along Hammersmith Road more closely and to engage with Olympia in real time to implement suitable mitigation measures.

The general traffic access and egress around Olympia is limited and changes to the restrictions on movements at certain junctions would compromise safety and adversely affect traffic flows along key strategic routes.  Transport for London are responsible for all traffic lights so any traffic layout options would be a decision for them to make.

 

Conclusion

Officers from all service areas were in agreement that there is room for improvement in respect of the way the event is being run by Olympia, and immediate improvements have been identified. Through officers monitoring visits over the next few months we will be able to assess whether Olympia are capable of achieving and maintaining something that is satisfactory. Active dialogue will continue with the venue management.

Virginia Ironside: Council fails to consult residents over parking changes

Virginia-1-reversedVirginia Ironside, the chairman of the Loftus Road residents association RAPA,  has written the following letter to Cllr Wesley Harcourt:

We were horrified to read you are proposing parking changes to Zone J without any proper consultation.

Only two years ago a proper consultation was carried out here in Zone J and the response of the majority was against any extension of controlled hours and in favour of continuing with the status quo. We were later assured there would be no changes or any more parking consultations for a while. 

Now, out of the blue, with no consultation with individual residents at all, comes this extraordinary decision. 

Our residents group, RAPA was never informed or consulted. Nor was Save Shepherd’s Bush Streets. As far as I know no one north of the Uxbridge Road had a say. 

We were not privy to your secret consultations, and feel strongly that you should not be extending controlled hours without another proper consultation such as was carried out last time, so that every single resident can have their say, rather than it all being decided behind closed doors by some select few with, no doubt, their own axes to grind.

This sort of unilateral and overbearing decision is more like something done by the Conservatives, not Labour, and we are really upset to think that all this decision making was going on behind our backs.  We voted you in to prevent this kind of stuff happening.  

At the last consultation RAPA did not get involved as we felt that there were so many interested small groups that it would be unfair to let them determine matters when there should be a proper democratic consultation in which every resident in Zone J takes part, with lots of choices offered including the possibility of retaining the status quo.

If you cannot reassure us that this plan will be put on hold, I would like to meet you to discover what the background to this extraordinary decision is and how you think you can justify it – one that affects all of us, and to which only a select few have been allowed to contribute.

We also question  whether it is legal to impose these extensions of parking controls without proper consultation.

Virginia Ironside

CHAIR RAPA

Labour sting motorists for an extra million pounds

David Taylor, the Head of Parking Services, emails to tell me that in the last financial year – 2013/14 Hammersmith and Fulham Council had income from parking of £34, 734, 250. He adds that in this financial year – 2014/15 the income is projected to be £35,755,502. So over a million pounds more.

Ker-ching!

Labour won control of the Council by claiming to be the motorists friend. At the Council elections in May the message from Labour was that parking charges were a stealth tax. They promised to reduce them.

Their manifesto said:

“Our Conservative council has a record for entrapping innocent motorists – fines for moving traffic offences have increased 18-fold in six years. We will work with resident, motorist and cycling groups to reintroduce fairness on our roads.”

Cllr Stephen Cowan, now the Council leader then the Leader of the Labour opposition , wrote on his blog that such vast sums were obtained through dishonesty:

“The scams used are the type of thing one might expect from the worst type of cowboys.”

Cllr Cowan is now the Cowboy in Chief. When £34.7 million was being raised that was regarded by him as stealth taxation, entrapment, scams. Now the sum has cranked up to £35.7 million. The Bagleys Lane Box Junction operates in same way. No fines or parking charges have been reduced. Residents are faced with the spectacle of the man who complained, more vociferously than anyone else, that £34.7 million was far too high being the same man presiding over an increase to £35.7 million.

I have requested that Visitor Parking Tariff for Zone I (where parking stress is low) be set lower than the current rate of £1.80 an hour. It is unreasonable for those living in Emlyn Road to be paying £1.80 an hour given that if they lived the next street along – in Abinger Road in Ealing – the cost would be 60p an hour. Cllr Cowan has decided to keep it an £1.80.

Good traffic management does require some charges and fines. The concern is that if those charges are excessive that it has become a tax – a means of raising revenue. As we celebrate 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta  let us remember that a tax should only be levied with the approval of Parliament.

It’s a great thing about the British constitution that we have the rule of law rather than a bunch of state gangsters – or municipal cowboys – helping themselves to our money whenever they feel like it.  The Magna Carta of 1215 said “scrutage” – as tax used to be called – could only be taken having “obtained the common counsel of our Kingdom.” In 1689 the Bill of Rights added:

“That levying money for or to the use of the crown, by pretence of prerogative, without grant of parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal.”

Labour play for extra time on Match Day parking restrictions

Fulham_FC_(shield).svgThere are three football clubs in our borough. Chelsea and QPR and in the Premier League. Fulham used to be in the Premier League. Amidst all the cheering there is the frustration of residents trying to find a parking space on match days.

Labour won votes at the council elections by promising to extend match day restrictions so that locals – with parking permits – would find it easier to get a space. These restrictions already apply in Parking Zones X and Y (near Craven Cottage) – although that also increases the pressure on adjacent zones. So some people in those zones voted Labour to get them extended.

It’s true that Labour’s manifesto merely promised to “address this where required”. To “address” the issue could simply mean consider bringing in restrictions and then proceeding to do nothing. But their manifesto come out after polling day. Labour canvassers in streets such as Archel Road (in Zone D) were more emphatic. Voters asking for more restrictions were told they would get them.

The difficulty, which was disregarded, is that these extra restrictions would involve a significant cost. When residents in all the zones south of the Talgarth Road were consulted on it four years ago the offer involved a £40 increase in the annual parking permit for those zones that opted for match day parking. That was probably why the proposal was rejected.

The cost was detailed in report on Tuesday to a council committee.

“The variable message signs deployed in CPZ X & Y are very clear and efficient, however there is a considerable capital cost of around £7,000 for each sign which would equate to a cost in the region of £4 million if the scheme were to be introduced in the 10 zones that were consulted.

“It would also be necessary to replace the existing parking sign plates and associated sign poles. This is because the match day sign plates are taller requiring mounting on a taller pole. Replacing the sign posts in the 10 CPZs would cost around £480,000.”

Why not do it on the cheap and not have such fancy signs with their bright lights?

“Systems used in other boroughs involved hinged sign plates that were manually opened on match days then closed after the event, which was hugely resource intensive and the signs could potentially be deployed mischievously.”

What about a blanket ban which would involve simpler (and thus cheaper) signage? Again problematic – Labour tried it when they were in power last time:

“Residents and businesses in CPZ Q & R (close to Parsons Green) asked for a similar extended parking controls in 2004, which was implemented. However the scheme was then removed in 2005 at some expense, as residents and businesses felt the restrictions were too restrictive for their visitors and customers.”

What about getting the £4 million from Section 106 payments from property developers? There is not unlimited money in that pot, there are restrictions on which each payment can go on and, in any case, Labour had pledged that funding extra police officers was to be the priority.

So it is not quite as easy as Labour pretended in the election.

Thus we had a pathetic spectacle on Tuesday evening of delay and evasion at the “Community Safety, Environment & Resident Services Policy and Accountability Committee”. There would be a “working party” or ” a task force” or “a consultation about a consultation.” It was language familiar to viewers of Yes Minister.

When I suggested a time limit for actually making a decision there a most indignant response.

By the way there was a another Labour election manifesto pledge was ditched the same evening.

They said:

“We will make it easier for family and friends to visit local residents by exploring the replacement of the council’s complicated Smart Visitor scheme with simple parking vouchers that residents can buy for others.”

Instead they are pressing ahead with the scheme. Their report now says:

“Presently 13,015 SVPs are registered and used throughout the borough. Whilst during the roll-out process the Council was receiving some complaints relating to how the system worked that were addressed, the number of complaints has decreased significantly to around 1 or 2 per month, mostly relating to individual concerns that are easily resolved.”