Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sunderland Echo Letters: Sunderland's Parking Regime.Will the District Auditor Act?

The Letters Editor

Sunderland Echo

Dear Sir,

Over a year ago Sunderland Council officials and elected members rejected an invitation to sit down and discuss the technical flaws in their Decriminalised Parking Enforcement (DPE) Regime.
As a very interested observer, with an office in the City centre, I was witnessing first hand businesses being strangled by an enforcement regime driven entirely for profit with no discretion or understanding of business, or customer needs.
Customers and businesses being driven out of the city to areas such as the Galleries or the Metro Centre will eventually lead to a long term decline for Sunderland but the Council appears yet again to be taking the short term view for short term financial gain.

Before DPE was introduced there was no consultation with residents and businesses. In their haste, and driven by an opportunity to attach themselves to a massive potential 'cash-cow' Sunderland City Council cut corners.
In 2001 specialists were brought in to examine the city’s parking.
Thousands of errors were contained in an 'exceptions report.'
In April 2002 Sunderland City Council applied to the Department of Transport for Special Parking Area status, which would allow it to operate DPE. In their application they reassured the Secretary of State that ALL lines, signs and TROs would be correct and in place by the time DPE commenced on February 3rd 2003.
They were not. The contents of the report had not been acted upon.
The Secretary of State had been misled.

What followed in August 2005 was that the Council had been aware that they had illegally ticketed people in Taxi Ranks and also Blue Badge Holders in certain instances. They had known in November 2003. They covered this up … and kept the money! It was only repaid AFTER we were forced to go to the press.

Far from being a ‘slight technical matter’ as some council officers and elected members would have us believe, it was becoming increasingly apparent that there needed to be an investigation into the whole DPE regime and we submitted a substantial dossier to the Head of Internal Audit.

If the Council expect the public to obey the law then the process is a two way street. The Council has cut corners with scant regard, if any, for the law and as a consequence has been exposed. The scrutinising and exposure of Sunderland’s lawless parking regime comes from a desire to expect those we elect to behave in a proper manner.

The scathing report is only the beginning of the investigation. The cost of putting right what should have been done right in the first instance has yet to be quantified. A point to note is that those highly paid officers who got it so badly wrong in the first instance are now the ones tasked with putting things right.

Let us hope that the District Auditor deems it 'in the public interest' to hold a thorough investigation and is not frightened of any political consequences of exposing what has become an absolutely disaster of the highest order.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Herron
12 Frederick Street

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