THURROCK’S ‘shambolic’ pay parking system appears to be in near crisis after an exclusive investigation by the Thurrock Independent unearthed a chaotic trail of inaction that has cost the borough tens of thousands of pounds.
And while taxpayers pick up the tab, dozens of Thurrock Council employees are parking for free close to the Civic Offices in Grays, while shoppers and other office workers have to pay increased charges.
On August 31 the newspaper carried a front page story about the appalling state of parking regulation and implementation of parking policy in the borough.
The story provoked a strong and immediate response from council leader. Cllr Rob Gledhill acknowledged the issue and called for a thorough review.
More than four months later little has changed. A council spokeswoman said: “The review is still being undertaken and it would be inappropriate to comment while enquiries are ongoing. A full statement will be issued later this month.”
The Thurrock Independent has found out that since September, a number of pay-and-display signs have been changed and a significant number of new meters have been installed in the parking areas south of Argent Street.
Some of the ticket machines were brought into operation, but later wrapped up and taken out of use.
The car parks close to Grays Beach boast several new meters and new signs. Yet all remain inactive , encouraging Civic Offices workers to park for free – costing the council thousands of pounds in income, and blocking parking spaces originally designed for Grays Beach patrons – the Beach Café is now open seven days a week.
Following the closure of the Civic Offices’ car park, alternative measures were put in place for council staff to use the pay and park facilities at the nearby multi-storey car park which is part of Grays Shopping centre.
The signs that have been amended show contradictions in adjacent parking bays – £1.20 for two hours in Thames Road and 70p for two hours in the adjacent car park park bays.
In addition, the prices on most if not all roadside parking signs look as though they were made by people who had spent time cutting up bits of sticky-back plastic.
The Thurrock Independent which has won praise for monitoring the situation from the council and leading councillors, has been asking for an update on the review for several weeks – but no news was forthcoming.
And this week the paper learned the council has been paying a landowner in Stanford-le-Hope over a controversial car park.
Under the previous Labour administration, the council sold the King Street car park to a developer – prompting something of a running sore between them, the owner and Conservative councillors who inherited a situation regarded as unpalatable by many local residents.
They were aggrieved at having to pay to park but recently finance portfolio Cllr Shane Hebb announced an agreement that people could park there for free over Christmas and into 2018.
The agreement, the Independent has discovered, is that the council is paying the landowner.
When this fact was brought to the attention of senior councillors, the following brief statement was issued in response.
“Thurrock Council would like to once again thank the Thurrock Independent for bringing the issue of inconsistent parking charges to our attention.
“The concerns resulted in a thorough, service-wide review which saw a limited number of pay and display machines temporarily suspended at various sites across the borough. Historical issues, including administrative errors, have been uncovered from 2015 which have impacted on subsequent years.
“The review is still being undertaken and it would be inappropriate to comment while enquiries are ongoing.
“A full statement will be issued later this month.”
The issue is likely to run on though, with both Labour and UKIP councillors expressing their concern about the situation – which appears to have cost the authority many tens of thousands
of pounds in lost revenue – not to mention what they have paid out in Stanford.
Labour leader Oliver Gerrish said: “I would like to thank the Thurrock Independent for uncovering these very serious issues.
If the council is indeed losing out on vital income through lack of action, this cannot be allowed to continue.
“As Leader of the Labour Group, I have written to the Chief Executive, the Leader of the Council and the portfolio holder to ask for a written response to these allegations and to seek assurances on when action will finally be taken. Sadly I am not too surprised that the Tory Council has once again failed to act quickly.”
UKIP group leader Cllr Graham Snell was equally disappointed with the situation, saying: “This is a truly shambolic state of affairs that needs tobe sorted as soon as possible. It is not good enough for the Tory Leader of the Council to make grand public statements about sorting this out only to let the matter completely slide.
“The loss of money into the council’s coffers is unacceptable at a time when balancing the budget is getting ever more difficult.
“If it is true that the council paid for the use of the King Street car park then somebody has to be held to account for authorising a misleading press release that failed to mention that important fact. I don’t suppose the folks in the rest of Thurrock would happy to discover that they subsidise parking in Stanford-le-Hope.”
Another UKIP councillor, Jack Duffin, who represents Stanford East and Corringham Town ward, said: “The Conservatives announced that there was free parking at King Street car park over Christmas, it now appears that they just block booked the spaces.
“It would have been better for them to have just been honest at the time rather than attempting to deceive residents. If this money came out of the transport budget, I wonder what schemes have been cut or reduced to pay for this?”
Cllr Duffin added: “It is also incredibly disappointing that the council is losing thousands of pounds a week by not collecting parking charges. Hopefully the council will act on this quickly. Unfortunately we will probably see yet another ‘enquiry’ or ‘investigation’ which seems to be the default action for every problem. Rather than act the Conservative administration seem to bury their heads in the sand. It wouldn’t surprise me if Thurrock has set a record for the most enquiries in the last 18 months.”
Leading Conservative Council Leader Rob Gledhill and transport portfolio holder Cllr Brian Little were invited to comment but have not done so.