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Councillor Mike Middleton and Stirrer Poet Laureate Brendan Hawthorne petitioning against car park charges in Wednesbury

Lynn Hawthorne has written before about Sandwell Council’s intention to introduce car parking across the borough’s six towns. Since the plans were rubber-stamped last week, she’s joined the resistance movement …

We’ve just heard that the recession is ‘deeper than anticipated’ and it may take ten years to recover, yet Sandwell Council is determined to forge ahead and charge for parking in its’ towns.

Take my hometown of Wednesbury. Plans are afoot to charge on car parks in High Bullen, The Shambles, Spring Head and Ridding Lane, along with on-street parking in Upper High Street, Albert Street and Victoria Street. Charges are set to range from 20p for one hour to £1 for over 4 hours, with a monthly season ticket of £15.

The Council may have taken advantage of the fact that there are no local elections this year and rubber-stamped proposals, but that doesn’t mean that the people of Sandwell have taken the news lying down.

They are still using their democratic right to voice our opinions and campaigners have taken to the streets urging members of the public to sign a petition in protest. Around 700 names were collected in just four hours on the first day of protest.

Instrumental in organising this petition are Wednesbury councillors Mavis Hughes and Mike Middleton and Vice-Chairman of the Traders’ Association, Arthur Dean.

Dean points out that traders are already feeling the effects of the ‘credit crunch’ and fear that more businesses, many of them sole traders, will be forced to close if shoppers are driven away.

Customers have openly stated that they will transfer their allegiances away from individual shops to Morrisons supermarket (where parking is free) and make fewer journeys into town.

“It can only have a detrimental effect on trade,” warns Mr. Dean, “which will, in turn, lead to job losses.”

Shop workers, too, are dismayed at the prospect of their already low wages being driven down further. Having to pay to park to come to work constitutes a wage cut and for the legion of female part-time workers throughout Sandwell, it’s opportune for them to consider whether or not it’s financially viable to work at all.

Is this what the council wants to happen? It’s an attack on women, families and the low-paid service sector.

Councillors Elaine Costigan, Bill Archer, Mavis Hughes, Mike Middleton and Rotarian Mike Warner campaigning against car parking charges in Union Street Wednesbury.

Councillor Mahboob Hussain, Cabinet Member for neighbourhoods and housing claims that the recession is the reason that charges are ‘extremely low’ but justifies the charges by claiming that the money raised will be ploughed back into maintenance.

However, with set up costs and the on-going costs of paying staff to fill machines with change and tickets, empty them and patrol car parks to ensure people are parking legitimately, I find the assertion that the Wednesbury car parks will generate £30,000 income per year contentious to say the least.

His other justification is that ‘other authorities are charging more’, but does this mean that Sandwell has to follow suit? Why can’t it be a leader in offering free parking as a benefit to residents, workers, shoppers and visitors? Why can’t we welcome people into Sandwell instead of repelling them?

All roads as they enter the borough bear the sign ‘Welcome to Sandwell’. They should now contain the sub-heading: ‘The borough that charges you to trade, work, shop, buy a sandwich, buy a stamp, pick up your pension, buy a card and a bunch of flowers for someone who is ill, see a doctor, pick up your prescription, have your eyes tested, see a dentist, have Sunday lunch, buy a newspaper, put on a bet or buy a Lottery ticket, go to a wedding or a funeral, worship God, worship at the mosque, change your books at the library, visit your family and friends.’

Sandwell Council has actively encouraged people to take flats above shops in the town centre.

What’s supposed to happen to those residents? And what about those of who live in streets adjacent to the town centre?

Parking is tricky at the best of times, but when visitors refuse to pay the charges and, instead, abandon their vehicles outside our houses, where are we supposed to park? Are we to pay for the privilege of living in Sandwell?

Will the Police assist us if a dispute arises?

So, I end with a message: To the people of Wednesbury & the rest of Sandwell, get signing that petition and writing those letters of objection. You have less than three weeks in wish to register your opposition.

To the decision-makers of Sandwell, I urge you to listen to the people, take note of their points of view and do something courageous – admit you are wrong and scrap the whole silly and dangerous idea.

(See also sandwell-parking-up-the-wrong-tree)



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