Island journalist, author and broadcaster for half a century
Visiting the historic Teesdale town of Barnard Castle last month, I thought I needed my eyes testing.
The car parking charges were just £1 up to four hours and £1.50 up to 24 hours. No need to take out a second mortgage and watch the clock like here, where the IW Council’s insanely greedy fees policy makes shopping or visiting our wonderful attractions such a pain in the purse for residents and tourists alike.
Instead, the enlightened Durham County Council encouraged us to spend our money in the “Barney” shops and restaurants rather than their car parks. Which we gleefully did, especially on the hilarious souvenirs of the hapless Dominic Cummings’ visit to the town; Boris’s buffoon, too short-sighted to see what a laughing-stock he would become among the no-nonsense Geordies.
Across the border in Yorkshire, there was a different way of encouraging people into town instead of putting them off by eye-watering parking charges. In Leyburn, the central car park has a donations box rather than a charge of any kind. Like the T-shirt nearly says: “Yorkshire – right. Isle of Wight – wrong.”
So why are our council car parks run like a gangsters’ racket, pricing us out of town at the expense of our hard-pressed shops and businesses? I have a modest lunch and afternoon out with pals each week when I have to submit to our municipal mafia’s extortion to park. The ticket costs more than the lunch.
County Hall mandarins, blinded by crocodile tears over the plight of our vital tourist industry, have failed to see how parking charges, on top of the piratical ferry fares, do little to encourage visitors to linger, let alone return.
I have joined the pleas for IW Council to see sense. All we get is their version of David Walliams’ “Computer says no…” Parking charges, they say, “generate revenue”. Well, so would cutting the eye-watering wages senior council officials have been trousering for years. Some have had ten times the average IW pay.
Perhaps instead we could employ senior officials more interested in the community they’re meant to serve than plotting their next step up the career ladder in local government. We’re told by successive administrations in County Hall that we have to pay top dollar to attract and retain the best senior staff. Well, that’s worked, hasn’t it? Twelve holders of the chief executive job in 22 years. That’s an average of less than two years. So much for “attract and retain the best”.
Someone with a bit more commitment and ability would be able to solve problems like car park charges the current crop of senior officials seem incapable of achieving. Time was you had suitably-qualified people in these roles: county engineers, county architects and county treasurers who were actually accountants. Now we have titles like directors of strategic paper-clip counting and gobbledegook planning; posts taken by people who reach for the smelling salts as soon as you mention taking a risk with a new idea.
How about making up the parking fee shortfall by surcharging the supermarkets for their kerb-crushing lorries coming to the Island? So they’ll threaten price rises. Bring it on; local shops will thrive with competitive pricing.
And be honest, who really needs a gleaming gas-guzzling townie’s tractor 4×4 car on the Island’s lanes? Slap a local tax on them. DFL (Down From London) second-homers can afford it.