21st August 2006
The link-up between Torbay Council and National Car Parks has been a public relations disaster for the Bay.
Our new army of parking wardens have been making local and national headlines for all the wrong reasons. It doesn't help the cause with revelations that the consultants employed to take the Bay down the path of decriminalised parking in the first place are owned by eventual contract winners NCP.
Now Torbay mayor Nick Bye has put the cat among the pigeons with question marks over the entire contract which still has almost four years to run.
He is not a happy chappy as the Town Hall is forced to find more than £300,000 from its reserves to keep parking services running this year.
Evidently, it was always anticipated that such a move would be necessary as the contract got up and running.
But, to use Mayor Nick's words, he fears we "have been sold a pup".
He believes the success of the deal with NCP was reliant on the eventual introduction of resident parking permits or charges for on-street parking.
But Mr Bye is having none of that. Again, to use his words, it would be "good night Vienna".
It now appears parking permits and on-street parking charges were never part of the actual and original deal with NCP in the first place.
That has come as a shock to Cllr Ian Doggett, chairman of the local transportation working party, who reckons that without parking permits the scheme is also "up the spout".
A Torbay Council official revealed: "In respect of parking zones and on-street parking charges, these were referred to within the NCP contract as future possible options which may be required of NCP but did not form part of the schedule and costs of the initial contract requirements."In the event that these are introduced in the future, further discussion between the council and the contractor would take place to agree the financial implications."However, existing schedules showing the rates for patrols would be referred to in these negotiations if they were to be progressed."
Cllr Doggett was a little "confused".
He said: "The mayor is entitled to his views."But residents on the edge of town in Paignton were phoning me saying they could not get out of their places in the morning and were clamouring for residents' parking."Residents' parking was also part of our election platform."
Referring to the NCP contract, he said: "We knew that in the first year or two you would have to pay for start-up costs, but in year two or three you would break even and in year four you would start to make a profit
."This is where the money from residents' parking would have come in."Parking wardens would have to be placed first."I understood it was residents' parking that was being involved and not on-street parking charges."
He added: "If we do not introduce permits for residents' parking we aren't going to go anywhere."It does concern me why we are not making money and other places are."The scheme as it is up the spout and is not going to make money."It's going to make a loss and, if residents' parking was not included, I don't think a good deal was struck."
He admitted: "I am confused and I am going to investigate this."
To further cloud the issue, Cllr Colin Charlwood, in charge of environment matters at the time the deal was struck with NCP, also believed that parking permits and on-street charges were part of the plan.
Cllr Charlwood said: "That was part of the plan."
He is not happy that Mayor Bye appears to be ruling out such moves.
Cllr Charlwood said: "It is his choice if he wants to do this. Nothing can stop him."That has been the issue about having an elected mayor. He is disregarding a previous council's decision."It comes back to one person over-riding the decision-making of 36 councillors. Is this what Torbay elected him for?"Now he is talking about disbanding the contract. If he is going to end the scheme what is he going to do? Is he going to put it back in the hands of the police?"There is a contract to be taken into consideration for a start.""If he is going to end this, why waste councillors' time and money on reviewing the behaviour of wardens if the mayor has decided that he is not going to allow this?"
Cllr Charlwood said it was always anticipated that the NCP deal would eventually pay its own way but "not make a fortune".
He said without parking permits and on-street charges "the contract will fail".
He added: "If it is costing us money we are going to have to reconsider the contract."We must have covered our backs from that point of view."
Liberal Democrat leader Gordon Jennings was also critical of the mayor.
He said: "The mayor's views on car parking in Torbay seem to flip-flop from one day to the next."First he goes on television to say that Torbay is a 'parking paradise'."Now he suggests that the NCP contract is flawed. Well, which is it?"
Cllr Jennings added: "Nick Bye also appears to be making decisions before the Overview and Scrutiny Board has completed its review."What is the point of councillors doing detailed work and research into issues if he is not going to bother waiting for their suggestions before making decisions?"The mayor and his Conservative administration are making decisions on the hoof. Quite clearly they have no detailed vision for the Bay."
Robert Excell, chairman of Torquay Chamber of Trade, was quick to back the mayor.
He said: "I will take my hat off to Nick for saying we were sold a pup."Let's hope the council's legal department can do something about this."There should be a full investigation into this and the people who agreed to the contract should be publicly accountable."I think the contract does not make business sense and should never have been signed."There was not enough common sense put into the equation."
Norman Drew, chairman of Torbay's Federation of Small Businesses, was also a Bye backer.
He said: "Fiasco is the right word for this."I think Nick Bye is to be congratulated on what he has said. It shows he has courage and moral fibre. He is going to make a lot of enemies but the truth will out."So where do we do we go from here?
IF the overall financial success of the NCP deal is reliant on parking permits and on-street charges and IF the original deal with NCP doesn't officially include such a move and IF Mayor Bye poo poos the idea any way we could be in trouble.
There is a way of getting out of the contract.
The Torbay Council official revealed: "In the event that the contractor's performance fails to meet the requirements of the contract, default notices can be issued and the employer can terminate the contract."At the present time, it has not been necessary to issue formal default notices as NCP is generally performing in accordance with the conditions of the contract."There doesn't appear to be any mention of money anywhere...