What would Rumpole of the Bailey make of Chester West and Chester Council’s car parking problem?
I used to give long speeches in court.
Were I as litigious as I used to be I wouldn’t be trying to persuade Chester West and Chester Council to do the right thing as you can see from the blog posts linked below. Here’s a draft of the speech I would make though if I that hypothetical situation happened.
Sir/Madam*(delete as applicable), it is obvious from the traffic regulation order starting on page xx of your pack (please refer to Part IV, section 33 of that order) that vehicles displaying a blue badge (or Disabled Person’s Badge as it is referred to in this traffic regulation order) at this car park (and many others in the Chester area run by Chester West and Chester Council) were entitled to 4 hours free parking.
The effect of that variation was to remove the four hours free parking for disabled persons, but those with a Chester West and Chester blue badge could apply for a microchip to continue free parking as before.
This variation to the traffic regulation order was therefore not lawful as the legislation requires Chester West and Chester to treat all blue badge users equally. It cannot discriminate in favour of its own residents.
As a result of this tangled web of poor corporate governance, my wife, a blue badge user when visiting Chester on Saturday 19th December 2015 was denied the opportunity to park in this car park.
Chester West and Chester Council could’ve quite easily raised the barrier and let her park for four hours, but it chose not to.
Instead one of its employees decided not to act with common sense but instead like a bureaucratic jobsworth.
She has clearly faced discrimination because of her disability.
I have raised this with the Leader of Chester West and Chester Council, her MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Disabled People, the Cabinet Member for Legal and Finance and the Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Wellbeing.
You can see Vanessa Whiting’s response at page xx.
The average person, turned away from one of Chester West and Chester’s car parks will neither have the patience, or understanding of local government to hold Chester West and Chester Council to account and wade like treacle through the murky depths of their apparent lack of understanding of the legal framework within which they are supposed to operate.
My wife of course does not wish to cause a fuss, but it is the principle of the matter that should be of concern to us all.
The state has when exercising its powers to act lawfully. Clearly these barriers prevent blue badge users from parking in these car parks and displaying their blue badges.
Clearly if you decide that the variation to the traffic regulation order was unlawful, then the barriers to the car park were unlawful too.
It is doubly perplexing that as Chester West and Chester Council has the ability to check the validity of any blue badge, that it chooses to make an exception only in favour of blue badges issued to its own residents.
The evidence is there before you in the pack, it is clear what happened and there is no dispute over the facts of what happened between the two parties in this case.
Ultimately what is needed is someone impartial and independent to adjudicate on this case and make a binding decision on both parties.
I realise this is the County Court and you may quite reasonably point out that only the Administrative Court has the power to quash the variation to the Traffic Regulation Order.
However if a finding of discrimination is made, then without Chester West and Chester Council changing the car parks, the situation will repeat again.
Clearly Chester West and Chester Council invested £650,000 in this parking system and it is shocking that the legal implications were not fully thought through before this large sum of public money was frittered away.
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However first a recap of the story so far (Wirral councillors and officers can breathe a sigh of relief as this story is about Cheshire West and Chester Council).
Cheshire West and Chester Council spent hundreds of thousands of pounds with a company to put barriers up at its car parks (albeit it this was a decision made by a previous administration). Councillors were at the time assured by officers that the issue of Blue Badge holders/disabled drivers would be thought through. The operation of these car parks however wasn’t outsourced and remains controlled by Cheshire West and Chester Council.
As far as I can tell from the 30th November 2015 last year barriers were introduced at a number of their car parks. Cheshire West and Chester insisted that Blue Badge users (but only those issued by Cheshire West and Chester) could apply for a special microchip to go in and out of the car parks controlled by a barrier. However even Cheshire West and Chester residents with a Blue Badge have to wait a month for a microchip.
Just before Christmas my wife (who is a Blue Badge user) visited one of these car parks to get that traditional Cheshire welcome of (and I paraphrase), "this is a local car park for local blue badge users, now go away".
Yesterday I received a reply back from the Labour Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Cllr Samantha Dixon. I’m sure the Labour Party is aware what I do for a living, which perhaps explains why as a non-Cheshire West and Chester resident I received a reply. The car park (one of many in Chester) in question is also in the ward that the Leader of Chester West and Chester Council represents.
It’s a matter of public interest, so in the interests of hearing both sides I am publishing her reply here (and my response). As I was writing this blog post, I received a copy of the traffic regulation order and public notice too, so those are included at the end.
Dear Mr Brace
I refer to your e-mail of 21st December to the Rt. Honourable Frank Field MP and copied to a number of Cheshire West Councillors. As your e-mail is about parking in Chester city centre, I am able to provide a response to the Blue Badge parking issues you raise.
You are correct that there is a national Blue Badge scheme, details of which are set out in the Department for Transport booklet entitled "The Blue Badge scheme: rights and responsibilities in England." Under the scheme, Blue Badge holders can park close to their destination, either as a passenger or driver, but the scheme is intended for on-street parking only (please refer to pages 6 and 17 of the booklet). Where a time restriction applies, a parking clock must also be displayed as the concession is limited to a maximum stay of three hours.
Many councils, but not all, also allow Blue Badge holders to park in their car parks for three hours free of charge, but in Cheshire West, four hours free parking is available in the Council’s pay and display car parks. In some council areas, charges apply to Blue Badge holders from the point of arrival in local authority car parks. Spaces for Blue Badge holders must be provided in all car parks whether or not charges apply.
This Council is in the process of converting a number of its car parks in Chester city centre from pay and display to ‘pay on foot’ or ‘pay on exit’ systems in order to be able to manage the car parks more efficiently and to increase the flexibility of payment methods. Where ‘pay on foot’ systems are introduced, it is normally the case that free parking for Blue Badge holders is removed altogether. The Council has, however, introduced a system for borough residents who are Blue Badge holders to apply for a microchip sticker which allows four hours free parking in most car parks affected by the changes, effectively making them permit holders for the car parks in question.
Badge holders who reside outside the borough are able to continue to park for four hours free of charge in Frodsham Street and Hamilton Place car parks, both of which are located in the heart of the city and are for the exclusive use of Blue Badge holders during the day (8am to 6pm). Of these, Frodsham Street (postcode: CH1 3JJ) is the larger car park, providing 80 spaces. I can understand that the directions from Lower Watergate Street seemed quite complicated when communicated via the intercom, but I can reassure you that access to Frodsham Street car park is straightforward. There is also plentiful on-street parking for Blue Badge holders throughout the city centre.
The Council published a notice in local newspapers detailing all the impending changes on 11th June 2015 and the information also appears on the Council‘s website. The signage in the car parks is being replaced as each site is converted and no longer refers to free Blue Badge parking. In light of your comments, we will, however, review the information on the signage to see if it can be improved.
I note your comments about the ticket barriers at Chester Station. We are advised the station is managed by Arriva Trains Wales and that if you send details of your request to the company at: firstname.lastname@example.org, they will be pleased to look into it.
I am sorry that you experienced inconvenience on your recent visit and I hope this information is helpful for the future.
Councillor Samantha Dixon Leader of the Council
Councillor for Chester City Ward (Labour) Cheshire West and Chester Council
Thank you for that comprehensive reply to my original message.
I have read your reply to my wife and she has agreed that I should send this response on her behalf. I have also made a Freedom of Information request for the traffic regulation order that relates to the Lower Watergate Street car park. As you will no doubt be aware there are regulations that apply to the traffic regulation orders that apply to this sort of off street parking and at least one of these makes explicit reference to blue badge users.
Thank you for your suggestion to contact Arriva Trains Wales about Chester train station, I already have, but am still awaiting a reply.
I also realise that the decision to go out to tender for the changes to the car park system in Chester was made by a previous administration before the Labour administration took over in May. A company then supplied the barriers/intercom system whereas the operation of this parking system is controlled by Chester West and Chester Council employees.
As you (or if not you your CWAC officers) will no doubt be aware Chester West and Chester Council employees have the ability to check the validity of any blue badge (whether issued in Chester West and Chester or not).
I fear that anything I write beyond this will become somewhat technical and may only make sense to CWAC’s Monitoring Officer/ whichever solicitor at CWAC deals with traffic matters or traffic officers at CWAC. I therefore apologise in advance if I getting technical.
Firstly you haven’t outright stated if the traffic regulation orders relating to the car park in question and the other car parks that this applies to have been changed. It is possible that the notice in the paper you refer to was part of the public consultation on such changes. If so, this hasn’t made clear.
However in order for changes to be approved traffic regulation orders still need to be lawful and comply with the regulations (even for off street parking).
You have stated that accommodation has been made for Chester West and Chester residents with a blue badge to exit and enter the car parks to which the changes have been made.
However the legislation makes no distinction between blue badge users based on the public body that issued the blue badge, so either:
a) the traffic regulation order at Lower Watergate Street still refers to blue badge users and you are preventing non-CWAC issued blue badge users from parking there (when CWAC has the ability to check all blue badges) and/or
b) you are discriminating against some disabled drivers (who do not have a CWAC issued blue badge) whilst allowing CWAC issued blue badge users to park there
You refer to other nearby car parks that Blue Badge users (where the Blue Badge is not issued by CWAC) can use. I presume you regard this as a "reasonable adjustment".
However the issue is the provision of a service by Chester West and Chester Council at the Lower Watergate Street car park.
Essentially the provision of car parking at other nearby car parks is not entirely relevant (although I realise a number of other car parks have been switched to the same barrier system).
I realise you point out that Blue Badge users not issued by CWAC can park on single and double yellow lines elsewhere in Chester. However I’m sure you and I both know how gridlocked traffic can be in Chester city centre (especially on race days). From a traffic management perspective are you seriously suggesting that blue badge users (not issued by CWAC) should park in such a way that will effectively bring traffic to a crawl?
However the problem is that traffic in this off-street car park is covered by a traffic regulation order.
Therefore the The Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Exemptions for Disabled Persons) (England) Regulations 2000 applies to whichever traffic regulation order covers this car park.
Regulation 6 of those regulations states:
Exemption in favour of vehicles displaying disabled person’s badges
6.—(1) The following provisions of these Regulations have effect for requiring local authorities to include, in orders to which these Regulations apply, exemptions in favour of a vehicle displaying a disabled person’s badge.
(2) Any exemption from a provision which these Regulations require to be included in an order may be limited to vehicles of the same class as those to which the provision applies.
So therefore my point is you can’t treat blue badge users issued by CWAC differently to other blue badge users in CWAC car parks. The point about booklets and everything else is therefore irrelevant.
I am therefore copying in the Monitoring Officer at CWAC Vanessa Whiting in this response and requesting that she (as is her legal duty) follow the procedure in s.5A of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to both:
a) write a report which will be sent to all councillors at CWAC and
b) try and remedy this situation
As I sadly have had a lot of professional contact with various local authority monitoring officers, I hope I will be pleasantly surprised and Vanessa Whiting will remedy a situation that shouldn’t have happened in the first place and that this matter will not require further measures.
And in another interesting development, whilst writing this blog post, Chester West and Chester have responded to the FOI request (considered under the Environmental Information Regulations) for a copy of the traffic regulation order and have also supplied the public notice advertising the changes.