A COUNCILLOR who spoke out against new parking charges on Lymington High Street has defended voting more than a year ago in favour of the policy that cleared the way for them to be imposed.
Cllr Michael White, the Conservative member for Lymington and Boldre on Hampshire County Council, backed traffic measures at a meeting in October 2018 that ended up giving the power to install meters from April this year.
When it came to the new parking charges being drawn up by HCC for Lymington, however, Cllr White kicked off public objections in December 2019 by warning they would be “disastrous” for shops’ footfall.
His stance prompted criticism by Liberal Democrat Cllr Jack Davies, who this week accused him of missing an early opportunity to try to block the scheme, which has sparked strong opposition from businesses and the town council.
Cllr White is a member of HCC’s economy, transport and environment select committee which in October 2018 voted by seven votes to three in favour of moves to retake control of on-street parking which had been devolved to district and borough authorities.
Hours later the policy was signed off by HCC’s cabinet member for economy, transport and environment, Cllr Rob Humby.
With HCC looking to make millions in savings, it required district-level councils to sign up to a new deal to run on-street parking and traffic management operations without loss.
As reported in the A&T, New Forest District Council rejected that amid uncertainty over the potential financial impact. Control will formally change hands from 1st April and could also lead to residential permit schemes becoming more expensive.
Cllr White told the A&T his committee vote in 2018 was a “technical” one to ensure highways regulation was settled, and insisted that at that time there was no suggestion of parking charges on Lymington High Street.
He said: “This was fundamental to the management of parking enforcement and traffic management in the New Forest. By law somebody had to be in control of it. If NFDC were not going to do it, it had to come back to the control of the county council.
“About 13-14 months later I was suddenly informed what they were going to with it. Parking charges at Lymington High Street was not on the agenda at that stage.”
Cllr White reiterated his objections, adding: “Parking charges are a tax on the high street. I have asked the question: what is in it for Lymington? The reasons given to date by officers just do not wash.”
But Cllr Davies, a Pennington town and district councillor, said: “When the Conservatives have such a strong grip on [Hampshire County Council], it is no surprise that short-sighted policies with no benefit to local people get passed through with little scrutiny.
“It is also strange that Conservative councillors then come out against those policies when they could have raised objections at the time just as Liberal Democrat councillors did.”
As reported in the A&T, HCC leader Cllr Keith Mans defended the proposed on-street parking charges scheme last month at a meeting of Lymington and Pennington Town Council.
He said it was about recovering money to spend on roads maintenance and to open the way for on-street power points as electric cars become more popular. New Milton, Barton and Ringwood would be next, he said.
HCC’s transport boss has been challenged to field questions at a public meeting next month about the plans for on-street parking charges.
Cllr Rob Humby has been invited by the town council to address residents about the scheme, which would shrink the current one hour’s free stay to 30 minutes, with payment for up to two further hours.
As reported in the A&T, in January HCC leader Cllr Keith Mans promised the town council that he would send a senior figure to a public meeting.
Cllr Humby is HCC’s cabinet member for economy, transport and environment, as well as being deputy leader. The town council said the meeting would be on 16th March at a venue to be arranged.