Greenwich Council should improve the way it consults residents on parking changes, including reviewing how it uses the local media to advertise schemes, a councillor said last night as an attempt to halt charges for parking near Oxleas Wood failed.
Drivers who park near Falconwood station, in Rochester Way and Welling Way, are set to face charges of up to £4 per day in an attempt to discourage long-distance commuters from leaving their cars in the neighbourhood. The mayor of London will have the final say because the scheme is on the border with Bexley, which has objected to the proposal.
Conservative councillor Matt Hartley had called for the scheme to be reconsidered because residents near Eltham Park had not been formally consulted on the proposal. Letters were only sent to addresses close to Falconwood station, and notices on lamp posts only advised people that they could contact the council and ask for maps of the affected area.
Hartley said the council had done “the bare minimum” to let people know about its plans: the only other publicity was a public notice in a little-read freesheet, Greenwich & Lewisham Weekender.
Council officials said that they did not need to consult widely because the proposal was a relatively simple scheme on non-residential roads. But 136 objections were received, many from residents near Eltham Park who fear that commuters from Kent will park in their streets instead. Hartley said that the officers’ report on the issue focused more on the objections from Bexley rather than those of its own residents.
“This has created a terrible impression, of a council coming across as ignoring Eltham Park residents,” he said. “The council has a long way to go to convince anyone in Eltham Park that this was a genuine consultation.
“This stretch of Rochester Way and Welling Way – these are non-residential roads. The overwhelming consensus from residents is that there is no problem,” Hartley said, adding that Spencer Drury, the former Conservative councillor in the area, had not received a single complaint on the issue in 20 years on the council.
No Bexley representatives attended the meeting, and Hartley said the neighbouring borough’s objections were “an entirely different issue”, pointing out that he had campaigned for a controlled parking zone against his party colleagues there.
Paul Nerval, Greenwich’s senior parking projects manager, said that the focus on Bexley was because its objection was “significant”, meaning the decision had to be made by a senior councillor rather than an officer. Bexley already had restrictions on its side of the border, he added.
“Welling Way and Rochester Way are the only free places to park outside a station in the area,” Nerval said. “Go to Welling, Eltham, further afield to Dartford, there is a cost to park. At the moment there is a free car park for 100-150 cars every single day.
“You could pay £7.30 to park at Dartford in zone 8, or you could drive for 15 minutes and park for free outside [Falconwood] station.”
Nerval said that council enforcement officers had reported issues with double parking, while “if you go there you will see vehicles parked over road markings, cycle markings, close to the bus stop clearway”, forcing people to drive over the hatching at the centre of Rochester Way.
Hartley called for detailed modelling to be carried out to determine if Kent commuters would switch to parking in Eltham streets, but Greenwich’s deputy leader Averil Lekau said: “Sometimes decisions are made to create parity with other areas. All the other stations in the area have some kind of controlled parking – this was some kind of outlier. The question would be, [why should we] keep this an outlier?”
While there were only three responses in favour, Lekau said that “the numbers that didn’t respond” should be taken into account. Hartley said that if Eltham Park residents were consulted, the objections would have topped 1,000. Only three members of the public attended the meeting and none spoke.
The call-in scrutiny panel rejected Hartley’s arguments and voted by two to one to allow the scheme to go ahead. The panel’s Conservative member, Pat Greenwell, had to withdraw comments alleging the consultation was not legal after an intervention from a council lawyer.
One of the panel members, Nick Williams, a Labour councillor for Greenwich Peninsula, said that the process for people to take part in the consultation “seemed arduous”. He also said that the council should look again at “where we place things in the press that’s accessible to people”.
By law, all English councils must place their public notices in a printed newspaper – even though the collapse of the traditional local press has left many areas, including Greenwich, without a dedicated print outlet.
To find Greenwich’s public notices, residents must track down a copy of Greenwich & Lewisham Weekender, a weekly what’s on guide, in libraries. Greenwich chooses to restrict many of its traffic notices to Weekender rather than promote them online as well.
MPs recently called for an audit of public money that is spent on local media to ensure that it is spent fairly. In Greenwich, the council spends up to £150,000 a year on ads in Weekender.
With Greenwich planning more restrictions on parking as part of its transport strategy, the issue of how they are publicised is likely to be a common one in the coming years.
However, Williams said that despite the lack of consultation, residents spreading the word – including campaigning by local Tories on the issue – had meant that local people were well informed on the matter. “That void was filled by local activists, regardless of what position they took, people knew about this and responded in quite large numbers,” he said.
“People drive in from outside the borough and leave their cars there – that’s of no benefit to our residents, they don’t shop locally when they’re there. There’s a bigger picture to be taken with the air quality in the area,” he said.
His Labour colleague and chair of scrutiny, Clare Burke-McDonald, said it was “entirely possible there’s a wider conversation above the way we consult” but “we have to make decisions on what’s in front of us”.
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