Team Lopez meets Minister about Havering parking policy

Since Havering Council first mooted new parking charges for areas of Hornchurch and Upminster, we have been making the Council and its Leader aware of the groundswell of public opposition to the new tariffs in writing and through meetings. We have relayed the Council’s defence of the policy and also challenged it, further to meetings with residents, businesses and councillors in the constituency. 

We believed those challenges would be more effective with an evidence base, and in this vein the team helped establish the Upminster Traders Group over the summer and began collecting initial trading figures to demonstrate the impact of parking policy on high street footfall. We had intended to present these figures in a meeting with the Leader of the Council in September, but that request was declined and a meeting scheduled between Julia and the Leader was later also cancelled.

As such, Julia wrote to the Leader setting out her serious concern about the impact of council policy on the high street and arranged to meet Local Government Finance Minister, Luke Hall, in parliament to try to address the funding challenges that the Council said were making the new parking tariffs necessary.

Unfortunately a meeting could not be provided ahead of Julia's maternity leave, however the Minister kindly agreed to meet with members of Julia's parliamentary team. The Minister set out the funding the Council receives and how this is set to increase next year following the spending round announcements from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Minister also advised that the Government expects that there will be a second round of applications for the Future High Streets Fund and recommended that the Council make further applications for the whole of the borough, in addition to its earlier submission for Romford. We have published below the follow-up letter that the Minister sent us yesterday.

Further to this, Julia has written again to the Council Leader today, and this letter is also published below. It sets out some of the funding boosts Havering is due to receive, and requests figures for revenue raised thus far by the new parking charges, for our constituency to be included in any future high street funding bids and responses to suggestions put to us by traders on how council could help boost our town centres.

With central government budgetary pressures cited as the justification for parking changes that seem only to affect our constituency out of the three constituencies covering the borough of Havering, Julia has made clear to the Leader that she wishes to be actively involved in resolving those pressures for the council. In the meantime, we continue strongly to encourage residents to contribute to the review of local parking policy that the Leader recently announced. 

Dear Cllr White,

You will recall that I had written to you at the beginning of September following the late cancellation of our scheduled meeting at your offices and the absence of any reply to our rescheduling request. One of the issues I had hoped to discuss at that meeting, which I subsequently set out in writing, was the health of high streets in my Hornchurch & Upminster constituency and the impact of new council parking charges on residents, small shops and businesses.  

I appreciate that you were already aware of the intense and ongoing concerns of residents and shopkeepers in my constituency over the parking charges, rolled out after February’s budget to the high streets of Upminster and Hornchurch. We have discussed these directly on several occasions and I have written to you and your officers on a number of occasions on constituents’ behalf, and to request a meeting at which trading figures could be presented by the Upminster Traders Group that we established over the summer. I know that residents have also made the strength of their feelings known to the council at meetings, protests and through petitions.

I was grateful for the replies to my letter that I subsequently received from you and Cllr Ramsey, in which you both set out some of the funding challenges facing Havering Council that have led you to introduce the new parking charges. Since I am not an elected councillor and have no vote in the Town Hall, I appreciate that I have no formal influence over the policies you choose to pursue. Insofar as they are influenced by the financial settlement you receive from central government however, I am keen to do all I can as the local MP to help you make breakthroughs with Ministers in issues affecting my residents. Indeed, I have consistently raised the rapidly-changing demographic profile of the borough with the Ministry over the past two years - specifically, our traditionally high proportion of elderly residents alongside a fast-growing number of children.

Following your replies, I made immediate contact with new Local Government Finance Minister, Luke Hall MP, to set up a meeting with him and his team of civil servants and requested further details from you and your officers over the specific funding challenges you outlined in relation to business rates retention and adult social care. You suggested in your letter that until such time that the final funding settlement for Havering is confirmed in December, and longer-term the Fair Funding Review is concluded, you will not be able to make any budgetary changes locally. As such, clarity on the likely settlement was also something that we sought from the Minister.

The meeting with the Minister was led by my parliamentary team due to my currently being on maternity leave, and they reported back that the Minister and his team were extremely helpful and keen to assist the borough as far as they can. Unfortunately, the Minister is not able to put in writing the entire contents of the meeting without prejudicing the scheduled December announcements, but my team were led to believe there will be a positive outcome for the borough and they would be happy to discuss this further with you informally so that they can share those discussions more fully.

In your letter, you advised that the ‘government have proposed ending the business-rate pooling which could cost the Council some £1.8 million in lost income next year’ and Cllr Ramsey raised his concern about a potential year-long lag between that pooling scheme ending and any uplift from the Fair Funding settlement. In advance of the meeting I asked London MP colleagues if they had similar concerns so that we could form a stronger voice on this issue, but it seemed not to be a worry shared in other seats. In his reply, the Minister advises that the amount of retained business rates will be increasing to 75 per cent for all authorities. During the meeting with my parliamentary team, the Minister and civil servants accompanying him advised that London Councils were supportive of the broader direction in terms of business rates retention. It was acknowledged that the council was set to gain more funding following the Spending Round announcements than it would lose between the ending of the pooling scheme and the Fair Funding settlement.

You also advised that the council was facing significant pressure on the overall budget from adult social care. In recognition of this, a new Social Care Grant of £1.41 billion has been proposed by government for adult and children’s services for the next financial year, and the Minister estimates that Havering will receive approximately £5.5 million from the new grant. Other elements of core settlement funding will also be increased in line with inflation to take account of pressures beyond social care.

You will recall in my letter to you that I had advised that the government is encouraging applications to the £675 million Future High Streets Fund announced at the 2018 Autumn Budget, which has since been expanded by the new Prime Minister. I asked whether we might make a joint approach to Ministers setting out innovative ways in which your authority would like to regenerate high streets in outer boroughs that could benefit from government support.

My team raised this with the Minister, and he advised that Havering Council had made an application to the first round of the Fund that was unsuccessful, but that the application covered only Romford town centre. He encouraged the local authority to apply again when the second round of funding opens and suggested that the application would likely be stronger were it to include the borough in its entirety. Indeed, the borough could make multiple individual bids for each town centre within the authority. I know that businesses in my Hornchurch & Upminster constituency would be keen to contribute to any such bid to increase its chances of success and my team and I should be only too happy to facilitate discussions between traders and the council on this matter. The objective of the FHSF, as the Minister suggests, is to renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that improves experience, drives growth and ensures future sustainability, and this is certainly something that could either enhance the High Street Improvement Fund to which you referred in your letter, and which you will be putting to Cabinet shortly, or indeed free-up funding for other work in which the council wishes to engage.

I hope that you find the Minister’s letter helpful and that, in the absence of the full funding details being yet available for next year, our representations to him in advance of December’s announcements will help the council’s case for a more generous allocation. If you would like me to challenge anything the Minister is asserting in his letter or seek clarification on any points, we should be only too happy to get back in touch with him either during or after the General Election campaign, should I be returned to parliament.

I asked in my initial letter if you could let me know whether the Spending Review announcements made by the Chancellor in September gave you room to carry out an urgent review of new parking charges. We welcome your subsequent announcement of a review of the charges that have been imposed in our constituency. I should be most grateful if my previous representations and those of my constituents could be considered as part of this review.

I would further ask that ease of payment be looked at by the council. I had previously sought assurances that any upgrade of payment terminals would include the ability to make a contactless payment by credit or debit card to reduce the hassle of finding the right change. I was advised that contactless would be brought in, but when parking my car, I have not yet found a payment terminal that offers this. In its absence I fear that the cash alternative - the council’s pay-by-phone system – is clunky, difficult and time-consuming to navigate. I am told that this puts off many older users and those who are short on time, such as parents trying to shop with young children. Anything the council can do to reduce both the charges and the ‘hassle factor’ in obtaining a parking ticket would be much appreciated.

I would also appreciate it if you could let me know when the review will be closing and when you hope to publish your response to any feedback you receive. Should the funding settlement in December be enough to make way for a change of parking policy, it would be good to know when any change or review might be implemented on the ground.

In the meantime, I would be most grateful if you could provide the information requested in my initial letter over the revenue raised thus far by the new parking charges and, if you do not yet have detailed figures, a broad sense of whether revenue is either up or down. You had anticipated the policy raising £750 000, and it is important for local confidence or otherwise in the policy that residents see whether the parking changes do indeed make the budgetary contributions that were the justification for their imposition. I would also welcome your thoughts on some of the other suggestions put forward in my initial letter on high street regeneration, specifically rolling out of street Wi-Fi, additional electric car charging points, the potential for one-off events to drive footfall and assistance for high street branding and promotion.

With central government budgetary pressures cited as the justification for parking changes that seem only to affect my constituency out of the three constituencies covering the borough of Havering, you will appreciate that I will wish to be actively involved in resolving those pressures for you. This job will be made easier and more likely to bear fruit if we can have ongoing, constructive engagement with council officers and representatives that can help me make your case to central government more powerfully. Unfortunately, my team found it very difficult to have those discussions in advance of their meeting with the Minister, so if you feel that his letter and the account of the meeting does not sufficiently address your concerns please do furnish us with details that will allow us to challenge the Minister’s assertions.

I am once again copying into this letter Cllr Ramsey as Cabinet Member for Finance, as well as relevant officers who may wish to provide a response to elements of the Minister’s letter. I look forward to hearing from you and once again hope we can work together constructively on the issues of concern that constituents have highlighted to me.

With best wishes,

Julia Lopez MP

 

Attachments

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Letter from Minister Luke Hall 186.09 KB