Jules Pipe, a Tory councillor who keeps his heart and wallet in Cheshire, has been reading The Guardian every day since 1970. On 1 October 2015, he paid a visit to a litter-strewn private car park that is only 40 metres from Tesco and one of five car parks operated by the council on the Green P lot in Chester.
Council staff were previously happy to serve Green P residents a free parking contract that gave all green spaces across the borough of Cheshire East, but then in May 2016 a contractor with the firm Network Rail told the council that he could show some of the signs on Green P only. The contractor objected to the phrase: “The public reserve is here for your enjoyment. There is no parking permitted at this location.”
Pipe says: “I was amazed to see this placement, so could not believe a council would advertise not to allow parking. I walked back, clearly had a word with somebody, then decided to go and do some research. I’m a writer, so I could talk to people. People who love Green P, as I do, make a point of getting out there. When they see these signs, they stop and get the bus. People who live in Green P get their coffee in the car park and a friend will come and have a chat. It’s not about the money. I reckon residents are losing £25 a week, but that’s a small fortune compared to the effect.”
If someone tries to park within Green P, then can’t get out, the parking enforcement officer issuing a ticket on the spot can penalise them further. Cheshire East said its contract with Network Rail, which had been running Green P for five years, was based on allowing each car park to use its specific signage. However, the company behind Network Rail’s contract insists that Green P signs stated that car parking would not be permitted at the site. A Channel 5 crew at the time recorded a vehicle that arrived at the car park and was challenged by Network Rail staff, but only received a parking ticket.
Network Rail is also in contract to Cheshire East to manage green spaces between Knutsford to Ellesmere Port, and although it maintains that the Green P signs were misleading, it agrees that it “intends to maintain these signs”.
Cheshire East says that it is a “last resort” to issue parking fines, and that it is only given powers to levy unpaid charges if the “possession” of the premises is stolen. The council adds that it tries to settle all parking cases by way of a voluntary agreement where the terms agreed with customers would cost less than the council was charged by Network Rail. However, as there are 1,019 cars park in Green P, it can still levy fines. Two paid after The Guardian’s intervention, but one vehicle is now in arrears.
The council is launching an investigation to investigate where the signs were installed. A spokesman says: “We were shocked when we were told that the sign was not the sign that had been told by the contractor. We were not made aware of any details of the concessionary scheme when we entered into the contract with Network Rail, including any absence of an internal parking permit scheme.”