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Open letter to Kent County Council – ‘Please postpone the sale of our car park and consult with local people’

December 9, 2011

Here is the text of my e-mail to Councillor Roger Gough, Cabinet member for Business Strategy and Support at Kent County Council. I got the details, which include e-mail addresses, from the Wilmington Parish Council Website . This gives postal addresses if you would prefer to write.

Below is the text of my e-mail to him. It’s written in great haste – and therefore even windier than I would normally be. But if it makes the difference between your joining in and not… feel free to cut and paste, or just to send a one-liner to him citing what I have written and linking to this post. [It may also wrap a bit messily as i have cut and pasted from the e-mail]

Dear Mr Gough

I am contacting you as a result of seeing your details on the Wilmington Parish Council website – in connection with this proposed sale.

I live in Warren Road, Wilmington and have had 20 years to see the way the car park is used, and the amenity for my neighbours in the area.

I would like to express my concern at the proposed sale. My principle objection is on the basis of consultation. I am sure there are complex arguments for and against the sale – in the context of much wider local government finance and policy issues. But there are citizens living within a considerable radius of the car park who should be considered as stakeholders. Those stakeholders should have been actively and intensively consulted, and the arguments aired, before this decision was made. This is not a matter where the County Council should feel able simply to divest itself of an asset.

 If I were party to such consultation I would then make the following points: The car park provides capacity which would otherwise be diverted onto the surrounding, unsuitable, on road parking… as people will still be drawn to the shops, and the Sure Start centre, immediately adjacent. We already have a problem with people parking briefly outside the Co-Op, right on the traffic lights, and this could only get worse. The car park is a ‘quick stop’ facility for many people using the adjacent businesses en route – it’s closure would affect these businesses, by losing those customers for whom the added parking inconvenience was a deterrent. Have those businesses themselves being consulted, and what was the outcome? For many elderly people in the area the car park makes it possible to do their own shopping by making a *short* local car journey and transporting shopping that they couldn’t carry by hand, this included, until his death a few years ago, our neighbour who was able to stay independent into his 90s by doing this.

 If the future use is to be as a Pay & Display car park, under private ownership – then the County Council will effectively have pocketed the one-off capital proceeds of the sale in return for applying a new ‘tax’ to all those local stakeholders who use the car park at present. As we have seen with the recent huge increase at the Priory Centre surface car park, this one way transfer into private ownership permanently removes control of the land from local people and allows a third party to dictate charges and, of course, penalties such as fines and clamping or towing. Many people make such short stops here that Pay and Display would either be inequitable or such a deterrent that the car park may as well be built on.

Property development is the other option. What are your expectations that the necessary permissions will be forthcoming, and over what period? A strong possibility is that the land will be acquired for this and will then be fenced off (unusable as a car park, but not used for anything else) possibly for years – e.g. as part of someone’s land bank waiting for economic upturn. Or it may remain available for parking but, no longer maintained by the Borough Council, as private land, accumulate rubbish, debris, derelict cars… Other pockets of local land have been similarly cleared, fenced, but not developed – so there is precedent.

I would ask you to postpone the sale and to ensure that there is full and active consultation with local residents, businesses and third sector groups such as the Scouts. As part of that consultation I would ask that you set out the history of the County Council’s ownership of the land, making clear any covenants or conditions that historically apply to it, and how these are being adhered to. You should also consider whether there are local community organisations who could and would purchase the car park – perhaps being able to use it on occasion for events, community markets, street parties etc. Such organisations may be eligible for grant or other aid to do this.

Please treat this as a community issue, with stakeholders, and not as a simple asset disposal.

[Name and full address supplied]

If you live locally and agree that we should at least have been given wider notice, some explanation and some say… then please contact Councillor Gough too.


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