Car Parking Petition Continues in Saffron Walden

In Uttlesford we continually ask for a democratic approach to government and consultation with the residents before meddling with important local issues.

The clue is in the name;

As “Residents for Uttlesford” our mandate is clear and rather simple. Consult with residents on all important issues and LISTEN to what they tell us.

Not that complicated you’d think?
Yet earlier this year Howard Rolfe and his Conservative cabinet decided to reduce the parking on the Saffron Walden Common from four to two hours. His reasoning was that he had commissioned an outside “independent” consultant to analyse parking in Saffron Walden and this was part of what they recommended.

Seems simple enough doesn’t it?

Well not really. You see this is not what the residents of Saffron Walden wanted. And yup, you guessed it, they where not consulted.
“Well”, they might reply, “this was not a big enough issue to warrant resident consultation”.
To that I say, “then why spend resident’s money on an independent consultant?”
And – surely its important if residents think it’s important?

Well as it turns out, residents did think it was important. Important enough to mount a petition and important enough to get more than 1800 signatures.
In fact, it was important enough to compel Cllr Richard Freeman (Head of Town Council’s planning committee) to present this petition to Howard and his cabinet. I reckon that’s really quite important.

And this he did – backed by the organiser and her supporters, at a recent meeting of the Uttlesford District Council.
Great! An example of Democracy in action!

Sadly, UDC Leader Howard Rolfe’s response was not.

The response was, to paraphrase, “Thanks for all your effort and passion but I know what’s best for you and your town and I’ve already decided.”

He had, in fact decided, some weeks earlier, to change the restriction to three hours. So that was that.

Now I’m not suggesting that he rides roughshod over Saffron Walden because they voted en masse for a different party, that would be petty and mean spirited.

I’m not even suggesting that he has a vested interest in high turn-over of parking places in Saffron Walden. That would be just silly.

But I am suggesting that he has completely ignored the stated and restated wishes of the people of Saffron Walden, thinking he knows best. And that’s Simply Undemocratic.

Surely when 1800 people sign a petition to preserve parking on the common, this deserves more than disdain.
We as councillors serve our constituents and their needs by engaging, listening and trying to act in their best interests.

Not by deciding what best for them but by trying to understand their wants and concerns.

When we get clear signals from residents about what they want, we are duty bound to listen, and consider their wishes.

If we don’t through arrogance, ignorance or misguided sense of entitlement we become redundant and counter productive.

So I call on residents to continue to petition. Continue to voice your concerns and continue to make yourselves heard. If at first you don’t succeed…..

Banner: Paul G Fairhurst [R4U]

UDC & SWTC Cllr Paul G Fairhurst [R4U]

13 thoughts on “Car Parking Petition Continues in Saffron Walden

  1. Neil

    Dear Paul,

    I am working on the basis that you are a public spirited individual committed to the prosperity of Saffron Walden, and thus merely mistaken in your comments. I really do not want to think that this post is a cheap political stunt that is careless, nay reckless, with the facts.

    Parking and getting it right is vital to the prosperity of market towns. The high street is under huge pressure from online retail. As such, we in Saffron Walden need to do everything we can to attract new visitors to the town.

    UDC commissioned a report from specialists on parking. There was then the subject of extensive consultation. As part of that process we had a special meeting of the Town Team on 4 August last year to discuss the report and its recommendations in depth. Five Saffron Walden town councillors attended including Sharon and Richard (who of course are also district councillors). The matter was then taken to the Town Council as a separate matter when the new Town Clerk started.

    There are good arguments to alter parking on the Common, there are good arguments to return to the status quo ante. I think everyone welcomes debate and discussion. However to accuse Howard Rolfe, as you have, bears no relation to objective reality and rather brings your approach and motives into question.

    I appreciate that political rough and tumble is part of life but given that RFU councillors, including the chair of the relevant Town Council committee were closely consulted, you would perhaps benefit from a little more rigour in fact checking before rushing to a wholly mistaken judgement.

    Yours ever

    Neil Gregory
    Chair, Saffron Walden Town Team

    • Paul G Fairhurst

      Dear Neil,
      Thank you for taking the time to read the comment and for your considered response. Its good to know that these posts are being read and questioned.

      In the interests of honest debate, I would ask you to consider two distinct and separate issues.
      1)The process of petitioning the local authority and how it ought to be handled

      2) The decision whether to reduce or increase parking limits on the common.

      The main contention I have is with issue 1) The value of Petition.

      What we are questioning here is the respect for one of the most important tools of local democracy. Together with election, protest and referendum, petitions should serve as an important yardstick for understanding local feeling and opinion.

      I can imagine no situation where a well constituted, fully supported and bona fide petition should be summarily ignored. In fact, as someone who stands representative of the interests of the local business community I would think you would wholly understand that.

      Regardless of whether the opinion of the residents is right or wrong, irrespective of whether they have read and understood the consultation document or have real skills in managing parking and town traffic, their opinions are unquestionably valid.

      The results of a petition are in fact the voices of the resident.

      I respect our possible differences in our understanding of democracy but I could and would never support imposing new or amended strictures on a town without at least trying to understand what they wanted.

      Indeed, as a public servant, I should be most grateful if they combined to petition me with these views. Consider, for a moment, the effort and time taken to draw up and motivate this petition.

      To characterise this as political point scoring, Neil, is thus just a tad disingenuous.

      On the question of issue 2), neither of us profess to any special knowledge about parking and neither of us actually know to what extent a limit of two, three or four hours would improve the rate of business traffic to the town.

      What I do know is that 1800 plus individuals and business owners have committed their signatures to a petition calling for the four-hour limit.

      This is a real and measurable fact.

      It is possibly more of a “fact” than the recommendations of an independent consultant.

      Having read the recommendations however I feel there may be a number of conclusions drawn which may be open to scrutiny.

      When a consultant is asked to appraise and evaluate the optimal use of parking in Walden they may either consider, as they did, how best to extract maximum return from each parking area and for example increase usage by increasing turn.

      Or they may consider not so much the profitability or usage of said parking but the contribution this parking may have to the traffic in the town.

      There is a signal difference between optimised use of parking for purposes of profit and the perceived limit of parking as an inhibiter to business throughput. For example: If I was an owner of a commercial parking site, I would want optimal turn over and charge “reasonable” commercial rates. Of course this may not be to the advantage of the town served by this asset. On the other hand, were it proven that free and unlimited parking contributed to increased business and improved impulse purchase, as a council, I might push for a peppercorn rate.

      It really depends on the on the objective of the parking and of the brief given to the independent consultant.

      I think you might agree that a major factor in folks choosing to drive to Saffron Walden would be the “perception” of ready and inexpensive parking near their destination.
      If a previous experience was good they would feel inclined not to see this as an inhibitor and in fact may consider this a positive differentiation. To publicly reduce time limits would have the opposite effect. This was not even considered in the consultation.

      Indeed, if 1800+ local residents feel so strongly about this change the perception of easy parking must sure have been compromised.

      Simply put the recommendations of independent consultants will give you the result based on the brief. And surely consultation with residents would be equally significant and garner a more democratic view?

      In summary as your own agenda is based on business activity in Saffron Walden, you ought to reconsider your position on the negative perceptions created by the change. As an elected councillor, representative of the residents, my views can only be ruled by principles of democracy.


      • Neil

        Dear Paul,

        Thank you for taking the time and trouble to reply – much appreciated.

        I think we can both agree on the importance of both representative and direct democracy. Indeed, much of your reasoning appears to establish “straw men”, which you then unsurprisingly demolish. A time honoured and respected rhetorical device.

        Your original assertion that the people were not consulted, does not stand up. They might not have been directly consulted (notwithstanding the official published notices) and we might both agree that the consultation was in retrospect sub optimal or in the light of experience inadequate. It was however a reasonable attempt in the light of known circumstance at the time.

        Similarly, the implication that the motivation might have been revenue maximisation has no evidential support. My observations are that UDC should be rather more revenue focused in terms of parking than they currently are.

        That said, bickering about process whilst interesting in its own way will not address the underlying issues, which are profound. Namely;

        1. The crisis in High Streets nationally from online shopping – the Amazon factor.
        2. The benefit SW gains from an independent rich shopping “offer”
        3. The need to address 1 above and maintain 2 above.

        The right mix of parking – signage, ease of access, number of spaces, price, ease of payment – is an integral part of the competitive offer and one that SWTC and UDC need to take seriously.

        Most people from outside SW will access our shops via private cars. If we want more people to visit and them to spend more we need to make the process of parking effortless.

        Yours ever


  2. Sandra Eden

    As an elected Saffron Walden Conservative councillor for many years now, I can tell you that I had no idea of the changes in the car parking times at all. So much for consultation. Further more, most of the conservative councillors on SWTC want to have the four hours put back.

    The petition came about as so many people came to me and others moaning about the car park changes. YES Neil, they didnt like it. I have ascertained that business has dropped off quite a few places. When I say that it wasnt “us” that changed the timings, they all ask who did. Have a chat with the real economy of the Town and not the shop keepers who cannot make ends meet because the rent is too high, some of the goods they sell are “luxury” and people can do without, or their business plan maybe was inadequate and quite frankly, the consumers do not owe them a living.

    I have watched, dismayed at the antics of the Town Team – who, by the way, are not elected – the Chairman doesnt even live in Walden I am told. Do we NEED a Town Team I ask myself. Maybe an Association of Independent Shopkeepers who are self financing and who find asking for “council grants of public money” more daunting. At least the public will see where they are coming from.

    The petition garnered over 1800 signatures and I understand is still growing. STOP and think. Do you think people signed this petition for fun? They are very annoyed and rightly so. It is THEIR car park dont forget not UDC’s.

    OK Swan meadow is a long term parking place. I, for one, do not use it if I can help it and NEVER in winter after dark. Women in general dont think its safe – yes, thats right. That may be a misconception but there it is. Have a chat to the hairdressers clientel in the Town and the restaurants.

    Do you know how the four hours came to be in the first place – No? well I urge you to find out . As for “not many people use the four hours ” then it doesnt matter one jot if you reinstate it does it. The extra money coming in? People popping back to top up their stay comes to mind.

    Finally, Lord save us from Consultants. You do not want my views on them I assure you. If you want real consultants, ask the people who actually shop in the town both with their footfall and on line. The bill will be much cheaper than the £10K and more accurate.

    Yes I am a Conservative. I have common sense and a lot of experience of life. I do not sway with the wind, jump on a convenient bandwagon or change my colours to suit the times. I have worked hard for what I have and have never thought the world owes me a living. If I like a shopping experience, I will return.

    Respectfully, Cllr Sandra Eden. SWTC Shire.

    • Neil

      Councillor Sandra Eden appears to be suffering from a very worrying lapse of memory.

      She appears unable to recall the minuted meeting of the Town Team on 4 August 2015, which she attended, where all the proposals in respect of changes to car parking were discussed following a lengthy presentation from UDC’s retained consultants.

      It is difficult to give any credence whatsoever to anything she says given this glaring oversight by her.


      • Sandra Eden

        Consultation never took place. This was build as a Review. I still cannot recall the fact that “The Common Carpark will be reduced to 2 hour parking”. If we had been made aware of this fact alone in common everyday speech and not buried in a load of gobbledekook, we would have made our feelings plain before hand. I refer to the Town Clerk who backs up this statement. I am so pleased we now have our committees and full council meetings recorded.

        I am not the only councillor who “could not recall” this fact.

        The fact is plain – this is a wrong decision and needs to be reversed.

        Sandra Eden

        • Neil

          I would have a little more sympathy for Cllr Sandra Eden’s assertions if the whole matter had not also been extensively considered at the 17 September 2015 meeting of SWTC’s Planning and Road Traffic Committee.

          Subsequent to which, and in accordance of the minutes of that meeting, a detailed response was provided by SWTC to UDC on 22nd September 2015. I gather the matter then went to UDC Cabinet before Christmas. So, there were at least three opportunities to intervene, none of these were taken.

          I do rather think it is incumbent on elected representatives to be aware of the meetings where matters are discussed and what is being discussed. Perhaps more importantly, if they do not understand documents, they should ask for assistance.

          It is a little bit rich for elected representatives to hide behind charges of “gobbledook” and engage in personalised comment, when they clearly failed to pay attention to both process and substance at the right time.


  3. Sandra Eden

    Neil, you still dont “get it” do you. With respect, its not what the Shop keepers want, its not what the politicians want, its not even what the “consultants” opinion says, its what the PEOPLE want and at the end of the day, thereby hangs the economy.

    I draw you attention to the recent referendum on the EU, the people had their say and voted accordingly and the result was a surprise to many. Iam answerable to the people who voted for me and my personal vote went up on the last election.

    I do not endulge in personalised comments on others. If I have something to say, its face to face and I rarely put pen to paper. My views are honest and considered. People/voters have long memories.

    Regards Sandra Eden

    • Neil

      I still find myself baffled by Cllr Eden’s approach. She admits she can’t remember a meeting she attended, didn’t understand the documents, didn’t ask for clarification, failed to challenge the proposals on two other occasions and yet still seeks to place the ‘blame’ on others for the apparent consequences of her own inattention.


  4. Sandra Eden

    Well Neil, I am not the only one it seems. Others have no recollection of the presenters telling us of any changes to the COMMON CARPARK either. The presentation was THAT memorable it seems. How can we challenge when the facts are obscured. Maybe they were meant to be. Our Town Clerk knows the circumstances so I urge you to seek clarification with her rather than indulge in a slanging match.

    Advice, keep your interest to GREAT CHESTERFORD where you are Parish Chair and leave the interests of SAFFRON WALDEN to the people who were ELECTED to serve. With respect of course. S Eden

  5. Sandra Eden

    I have checked with the records, as you should have done. Its official, I was not there at the planning meeting when this talk was given nor was it referred to the Full Council. Therefore, most of the councillors did not hear the “presentation” as such. This should have been brought before the Full Council so we could all ask questions and hear exactly what was being thought about instead of making it a done deal. It is understood in The Town Office that this was NOT a consultation / review. For more information, I refer you to the Town Clerk. S Eden

  6. Neil

    Lets recap the facts.

    Cllr Eden attended a meeting, which she forgot she had attended. When challenged she remembered the meeting but said she didn’t understand the documents presented nor did she ask for clarification of those documents, preferring to dismiss them as “gobbledegook”.

    She then had two further opportunities to intervene neither of which she took, one of which was at Planning and Road Traffic Committee. Now anybody doing 30 seconds due diligence would know that Cllr Eden was not a member of the Planning and Road Traffic Committee which met in September 2015.

    However and it is a big however – the committee rubric states “All other Councillors are welcome to attend this meeting but will not be formal members of the committee and will not receive any voting rights”. So she could have intervened but missed that opportunity too.

    Cllr Eden has now added a more disturbing component to her posts on this blog. She seems to feel that where I live disqualifies me from engagement in these issues. Leaving aside the disrespect shown to volunteers, who give of their time freely, there is something rather dark about Cllr Eden’s approach. Where does one have to live to have legitimacy in her eyes…does Ashdon count? Radwinter? Sewards End? Are there any other grounds on which Cllr Eden considers individuals should be excluded from debate? I think we should know.

    The sad fact is Cllr Eden does not like the truth, chooses to ignore evidence and wishes to mask her own lack of attention to her duties.

    I am very happy to discuss the pros and cons of parking with anyone in a civilised and considered manner. Perhaps Cllr Eden could try that approach.

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