To undertake external scrutiny of the North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) with the Group Manager, Mr Richard Walker – please see attached report.
The Chairman, Councillor M Sartin, introduced the Group Manager, Mr R Walker, who gave a comprehensive overview of its operations. Formed in April 2011 the north part of the partnership comprised Essex County Council (ECC) and six other local authorities – Colchester (lead LA), Braintree, Epping Forest, Harlow, Tendring and Uttlesford. NEPP had been set up to bring the operation out of deficit and reported to the Joint Parking Committee, which was made up of NEPP officers and partnership members. The governance arrangements allowed each authority member a vote plus up to six schemes a year. Kerbside parking management was funded from penalty income from patrols but was not an income generator. Funding also came from resident parking permits, pay and display schemes and sundry income. The operational team and patrols issued some 76,000 penalty charge notices (PCNs) in the year before the coronavirus crisis. NEPP had CCTV patrol cars and enforcement officers monitoring parking infractions, footway parking and obstructive parking. The enforcement process could be challenged by the public. Parking schemes encompassed ECC safety and congestion, new housing schemes, traffic schemes and socially necessary schemes. Most consultations were undertaken in the winter months as maintenance work was targeted for completion in the summer. The scheme process usually took a minimum of 50 weeks to be implemented. A project team was looking at innovation of the scheme process to try and automate it going forwards. NEPP was involved with school safety parking issues, especially near primary schools. A data led team was looking at efficiencies and investing in digital technology. It was developing fixed camera and mobile sites. A 3PR scheme was looking at safe parking at schools, so people parked where it was safe to park and then walked to the school. Parking in future included looking at footway parking, obstructive parking, active travel to get people in / out of town centres, connected, autonomous and new types of vehicles, and electric vehicles and environmental issues.
Councillor R Baldwin asked about single yellow line applications for parking schemes for individual roads that had to garner the support of 75 per cent of residents, which seemed bureaucratic and time consuming, so could this be done by ward? In his Loughton Forest ward he had observed delivery vans not being able to park in loading bays, buses parked on yellow lines, and it was rare to see any parking enforcement in Albion Hill, Loughton. Also, six schemes a year for each LA did not seem adequate. Mr Walker replied that problems differed road-by-road hence, a smaller rather than larger area of focus. Localism helped in the process to come up with the right scheme, but a consultation with all road users could derail an application. As a result of the Covid crisis, the prevalence of deliveries had increased over the last year, and there were now more patrol cars with fewer foot patrols to help staff safety. The Enforcement Team also mapped where it went. NEPP might need to investigate buses parking on yellow lines but they were usually exempt. At the start of the partnership everyone had a long list, so schemes were limited to six per year, but NEPP now had the money and resources to be able to invest in more schemes.
Councillor S Rackham asked about speeding and the use of cameras, vehicles idling especially outside schools, footway parking near takeaways and electric vehicle charging points when people could not have their own. Mr Walker replied that vehicle activated signs for speeding came under County’s remit so he could not advise on this. NEPP’s fines for idling were not very high whereas the legislation for the London boroughs to promote cleaner air were more robust. Blue badge and permit parking misuse would also be investigated. NEPP had been lobbying for some time over footway parking, but obstruction and driving onto a footway were matters for the police. Electric vehicle fast charging sites were being looked at but also wanted to be careful not to end up with an excess of charging points when technology moved on. A team at ECC was investigating the potential of using streetlight columns as charging points.
Councillor S Murray praised the user friendly NEPP website but commented that footway parking in urban areas was a growing problem. He asked about the lack of consultation on the red routes installed in Epping Forest, which he hoped would not be there in perpetuity, and how NEPP ensured safety at work for enforcement officers. Mr Walker replied that the red routes had been done in an emergency in May 2020, as the Forest was frequently mobbed by people often travelling a long way. It was a temporary scheme for 18 months. A full consultation process for the whole of the red scheme including waiting and loading bays would need to be undertaken if the scheme was to be extended. Enforcement officers were doing a job, and they all wore a body camera. If they were prevented from issuing a PCN, the advice was to take a photograph and walk away as these could be posted. There had been few Covid incidences, but more officers were in vehicles, which were sanitised regularly.
Councillor D Sunger asked about commuter parking around stations and that he had previously tried to get a controlled parking zone (CPZ) installed. Although almost half the residents had not wanted it, residents were now asking when a re-consultation could happen. Also, members could become involved in congested parking by schools when headteachers contacted them, and did NEPP enforcement officers undertake a purge on areas identified by ward? Mr Walker replied that NEPP would look in more detail at CPZs and area reviews. When normality returned after Covid there was a bidding process in place for schemes. Previously, a scheme would not be looked at again for five years. For parking problems around schools, red routes might be considered. CCTV could be used on a red route and it was starting to trial CCTV at fixed camera sites. One operator could look at four fixed camera sites at a time. There was also legislation that could be used to stop moving traffic going into an area. To apply for a fixed camera to be installed at a site, this could be done either through the headteacher or ward member. Photos would help the case and lobbying by the ward members and public. Councillor M Sartin remarked that even though parking notices had been put up outside a school in her ward, parking problems still persisted.
Councillor S Heap queried if a scheme that had been set up could be removed. Also. had a budget had been put aside to remove the red routes in the Forest that had cost some £96,000 to install, how much had been made and could a PCN be issued to a car parked over a line into the Forest? Mr Walker replied that through the petitions scheme people could submit a report of the details with a diagram, which was assessed under a scoring system. The paint had been the main cost of the red route. Thus far some £40, 000 had been made from over 1,000 PCNs being issued in under a year. The issue was not about PCN income, as this was a by-product, but if the aim of the red routes in the Forest had been achieved, and if they were working in the right way leading up to a consultation. PCNs could be issued to cars parked in the Forest across a red route because it would be a decision on what was reasonable.
Councillor D Wixley said that some residents in his ward wanted junction protection installed, which was a small scheme, but did it count towards one of the six schemes a year allowed per partnership member and what was the application process? Also, the Safer Essex Roads Partnership took up speeding issues, but he did not know how SERP differed to the police. Mr Walker replied that there was delegation from ECC to be able to do a small scheme like junction protection. The Commercial and Technical Services Director, Q Durrani, could be apprised of these, but line painting would need to be done in the summer. Footway parking could be enforced through policy when legislation was in place.
Councillor J M Whitehouse said that informal consultation on parking schemes allowed residents to comment who knew best, but how did one capture that information by the time of the consultation? Mr Walker replied that informal consultation was part of the process of submitting a scheme. The score was based on residents’ input and informal consultation, as early comments did bare some weight in helping to improve on the scheme during the early phase so that it developed. Qualitative measures were part of the process with scoring on the website to indicate the level of local support and the TRO (traffic regulation order) policy. Councillor J M Whitehouse questioned the use of residents parking zones (RPZ) when yellow lines could be a good way of dealing with minor traffic issues to do with certain times of the day. There seemed to be a patchwork of CPZs and RPZs so in his opinion there was an argument for rationalising some of them. Mr Walker replied that NEPP used RPZs and they were easy to manage. As single yellow lines applied to everyone, a resident’s permit would not allow parking on a yellow line. Two years ago, NEPP brought in a system that digitised RPZs – traffic web. NEPP was going ahead with reviews to look at grouping RPZs. In a larger area possibly, simplification might be better as this had become very complex. Teams monitored all yellow lines, which were mapped, logged and scored, so that lines in need of repainting were rectified during the warmer months of Easter to the end of autumn.
Councillor M Sartin thanked Mr Walker for attending the meeting to give an overview of NEPP’s work and answer members’ scrutiny questions.