Victory for Basildon residents featured in This is Money’s parking sharks campaign as private firm makes changes to car park
- Smart Parking handing out charges since July but cameras didn’t have planning permission
- The application was pulled last night as councillors would not have approved it
- Comes after fierce backlash from residents who protested unfair charges
- Westgate Car Park previously featured as part of This is Money’s campaign
The private parking firm that made Basildon shoppers’ lives a misery for months have failed in their bid to get their car park cameras approved by the local council.
Basildon Council’s Planning Committee on Tuesday night deferred until March Smart Parking’s retrospective planning application for three ANPR cameras and six pay and display ticket machines in Westgate Car Park.
In a victory for embattled residents a number of changes to parking at Westgate will be introduced straightaway.
This includes extending the car park’s grace period and one or two incorrect digits when keying in the vehicle registration will no longer result in a charge.
Basildon residents say that the parking charges are harming those who want to use local shops
Council planners had initially suggested that there was ‘no material planning considerations’ that would ‘justify the refusal of retrospective planning permission’, but pulled the application from last night’s agenda when they realised members would not vote for it.
Independent Councillor Kerry Smith told local newspaper the Evening Echo: ‘The officers knew it would only get about two to three votes, everyone else was going to reject it.
‘We were all incredibly concerned by the amount of residents that have complained.’
Smart Parking installed the ANPR cameras at Westgate Car Park without planning permission in July 2018.
As part of our campaign against the private parking sharks, This is Money reported on the fact that the car park had been flooded with complaints after hundreds of shoppers were hit with ‘unfair’ parking charges.
More than 5,000 residents had joined a fightback Facebook group, while some had protested in public.
Parking nightmare: This car park in Basildon has been subject to two protests and more than 5,000 people signing up to a fightback group on Facebook
The tales of woe told by motorists often fell into the same categories.
Either the ticket machines printed an incorrect or incomplete registration which led to drivers receiving a charge, or those who had driven in and then out again within minutes were also hit.
Things became so bad that local MP Stephen Metcalfe brought up the car park in Parliament in October, describing it as ‘one of the worst examples I have seen locally of blatant exploitation and heavy handedness’.
The application will be brought back to the Planning Committee in March, with the council liaising with residents and Smart Parking to agree on a plan that will suit everyone.
One of the campaigners, Tracey Dunne, told This is Money: ‘A lot was said about the town suffering and the shops losing money’, and called it ‘a pretty good result.’
Another, Keith Coventry, said: ‘It was good to hear the decision has been deferred, but that on it’s own doesn’t stop Smart from continuing to post charges out for the most innocent of reasons.’
‘I can’t say I’m happy until Smart are refused retrospective planning permission, which will then give us the ammunition to pursue them for full refunds since the start of their tenure.’
Labour Councillor Andrew Gordon also told the local newspaper: ‘It was a huge win for us and the people. I never felt comfortable with it, and it’s clear now the rest of the council does not either.
‘This deferral will mean there will be a public consultation into the cameras and nothing will be put forward again until they have had their say.
‘I’ve been a councillor for 11 years and I have never had so many people contact me about one thing before. They need to be held accountable.’
Smart Parking have been approached for comment.
Basildon and our parking campaign
We have three points to our manifesto to beat the private parking sharks.
1. Make the appeal process fairer: it seems, yet again in these cases, genuine common sense appeals are being turned down and some drivers may be afraid to appeal via the independent body POPLA out of fear the charge escalates;
2. Stop DVLA allowing data being sold to private firms: without this, these honest Basildon drivers wouldn’t be hounded;
3. DVLA to investigate hotspots: it is clear in this case that many unfair charges are being dished out. The DVLA should investigate and stop handing out personal information to the firm running the car park until it can prove that the charges it is issuing are fair.
Furthermore, Basildon was yet another example of how people are being put off from visiting shops in their local town – this is bad for the local economy and puts a strain on already struggling high street retailers.
Our campaign is not an excuse for drivers to flout the rules and be a menace themselves – it is about stopping scattergun style charges that trip motorists up.