Letter to Jeremy Hunt re MSCP with Transport Minister in cc

This e-mail was sent to Jeremy Hunt last weekend re the multi-storey car park, with Patrick McLoughlin in cc.

Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey

By e-mail to: jeremy.hunt.mp@parliament.uk

12th January 2014

Dear Jeremy

I have read your new Multi-Storey Car Park (MSCP) website. I do not support your current campaign for a MSCP. I think it is undemocratic to provide an e-mail address only asking for support, and not to have full and open consultation for what could end up being the largest building in our rural town.

You state your belief that the only real solution to Haslemere’s parking problems is to provide more car parking at the train station, in the form of a multi-storey car park. You ask for support for a multi-storey without giving residents any supporting evidence that this is the best solution. There has been absolutely no independent resident consultation in Haslemere in the 15 years I have lived in the town. The current application outlines the level of consultation: “Haslemere Town Council placed an article in the Haslemere Herald and erected preliminary images in the Town Hall for Public review. Questionnaires have been sent out by SWT to rail passengers.”

A MSCP will create a revenue stream for SWT and will be conditional upon residential road restrictions such that Haslemere residents will have to bear the inconvenience of the parking restrictions with no upside. Furthermore, there is a considerable downside for commuters since station car parking charges have increased far faster than rail fares or inflation, because SWT does not have to cap these increases.

If Haslemere as a town managed its own parking services, an income could be generated such that revenue raised in Haslemere would stay in Haslemere. The Localism Act’s Community Right to Challenge provides a right for ‘relevant bodies’ to submit an expression of interest to run local authority car parking services. This ought to be explored. Such a scheme would also create local employment in your constituency. I would have liked to have discussed this with you in the context of the Wey Hill public inquiry but was disappointed to have my recent meeting request declined.

Has a park and ride scheme been properly explored? Such a scheme could be much more affordable for commuters and residents than car parking at the station. It works elsewhere. I’m not saying that is the answer but it’s another possible solution.

I understand that Guildford has just extended its Park & Ride service in a partnership between Surrey County Council and other local organisations including Guildford Borough Council. The scheme is funded by the Department of Transport’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund and is part of Surrey’s Travel SMART programme, which aims to help Surrey residents and businesses cut calories, carbon and cost. As Health Minister, solutions with considerable health benefits should surely be considered. Furthermore, according to your website, you are only working with the Waverley Borough Council and Haslemere Town Council and not Surrey County Council – why not?

In January 2007 you wrote on your website: “Regarding traffic management, 74% of local people believed that Farnham needed an integrated traffic plan and 78% thought that South West Surrey’s villages were being ruined by traffic and that there needed to be further investment in better traffic management.” And yet, you are encouraging increased traffic and sole reliance on car use by supporting a MSCP without looking at alternative ways to take the pressure from car parking at the station.

SCC’s recent rail strategy report produced by Arup gives the impression that no independent research has been carried out to support a MSCP at Haslemere train station.

That Surrey-wide report, Sept 2013, (with input from Haslemere) found:

  • Rail station parking improvement programme needs to be informed by data collection exercise on current usage and forecast growth. (SCC has funding available for data research and could contribute to this through local funds or funding bids (eg Access for All or National Stations Improvement Programme).
  • There is very little further evidence and data on access to stations in Surrey, such as overall demand, mode share and car parking usage.
  • Based on the data collected, a Programme of access improvements should be developed to address gaps, providing additional capacity or alternative modes of access. Schemes should cover all transport modes and could include improved parking facilities for cars and bicycles, improved walk and cycle access to stations, improved pick-up/drop-off facilities for private cars and taxis or improved bus services to the station with enhanced interchange and integration (e.g. coordinated timetables). The package of measures could take the form of a Station Travel Plan, as a catalyst for improvement.
  • In some areas of Surrey the private car is an important mode of access to rail stations, particularly in rural areas where there are few viable public transport alternatives and where distances are too long or roads not suitable for walking and cycling. In these cases, car parking facilities need to provide sufficient capacity at an appropriate price. Examples raised in the consultation include Haslemere, Farnham, Brookwood, Godalming, Redhill and Merstham. Issues include lack of capacity, particularly after the morning peak. These key locations need to be identified and studied through this option, to assess the capacity issues and determine where expansion of car parks is appropriate and provides value for money.
  • Development objectives: Reduced reliance on car travel and its associated impacts (congestion, pollution, safety).
  • Population growth: providing an alternative to car travel on the congested road network.

On 17th October, you published a link to the above-referenced Arup report in your twitter feed. That is how I first heard about it. On 8th November you tweeted about the success of your new MSCP campaign. The MSCP campaign does not seem to be supported by any of the recommendations in the Arup report that you shared.

There is little evidence to support a MSCP (I am only aware of car counts in Haslemere, an early morning survey of the Wey Hill car park and a questionnaire sent to commuters in 2009) and this ignores 1) the consequences of congestion and pollution and 2) the fact that these counts are produced, not by an independent expert but by Councillor Mulliner whose position as a town councillor and a Waverley Borough councillor is conflicted. A MSCP cannot be considered without viewing the site at Wey Hill. Recently, I wrote to Councillor Mulliner outlining my concerns about the consequence of introducing a MSCP and also about my concerns over his conflict of interest in this matter. He has not replied. I wrote:

1)      Consequences. Your business case for a MSCP ignores the effect of increased congestion, pollution and road safety. (Many school children use the train to get to school during the morning commute and will have to encounter increased traffic flows when crossing roads. This has serious safety implications. Cycling and Walking will become less appealing.) Lower Street becomes gridlocked with one flash flood at Fosters Bridge. How will the entry/exit points of the station cope with the extra cars during the commuting period? There are cheaper and more imaginative solutions and the increases in pollution and congestion have not been considered. All items recognised as needing rigorous research by the independent Surrey Rail Strategy report compiled by Arup have been ignored in Haslemere.

2)      Conflict of interest. A simple calculation of 500 cars in the station MSCP – with the required residential road restrictions that the MSCP would insist upon because funding would be conditional upon a CPZ to divert commuters into paid car parks, tells me there would be (and it’s a very conservative estimate) NEW revenue of £160,000 per annum from overspill parking in 3 of WBC’s car parks (Tanners Lane, Wey Hill and Weydown Road). This is immensely attractive to WBC. Not one penny of that revenue has to come to back to Haslemere. Indeed, you are on record saying charging at Wey Hill will be easier to impose once proper parking at Haslemere station is in place, http://haslemereparking.com/wey-hill-car-park-item-at-last-weeks-waverleybcs-executive-meeting/. You are the person consulting on how much parking may be needed for a station MSCP and you are also the person who is balancing this with the borough council’s desire to get as much parking revenue from its car parks.

I support examining all alternatives with maximum community input and I understand that Haslemere Vision, the town’s neighbourhood planning forum, has the mandate to do that. The members of the Vision’s Transport Working Group have themselves not reached consensus that the MSCP is the right route.

In Haslemere, there is a recent history of residents campaigning on parking issues. Last year, lack of proper consultation by Surrey County Council eventually resulted in them being faced with a potential judicial review over their on street parking actions, and led to their pay & display plans being dropped.  Lack of proper consultation by Waverley Borough Council has led to the Wey Hill public inquiry at which the inspector will read 236 letters of representation, with more than 98% of residents writing against the application. The message is clear – residents want open and inclusive consultations. Your tweet recently We have been talking about a new car park at Haslemere station for years – now is the time for action, not more consultations!” is factually incorrect. We have had no such thing. The only people who were asked to provide their views were commuters in the previous application submitted by Stagecoach South West Trains. Indeed the mentions you have received via Twitter on this matter have been against a MSCP.

I am not saying that a MSCP is not the right solution for commuter parking. I feel that the timing is wrong with the Wey Hill public inquiry in April. Indeed, if the MSCP went ahead it could pave the way to look at how the Fairground common land can be given back to the people of Haslemere because commuters will no longer need to park there. Waverley Borough Council could then offer low cost and affordable parking to Wey Hill shoppers and shopkeepers in the Weydown Road car park? Or, would we even need a MSCP if we invested in a campaign for alternative uses of transport and better public transport? What I am saying is that it should not be considered without research that considers all the alternatives. This research should be based on independent expert data concerning station users and should take into account traffic management, future development in the surrounding area and residents’ views.

You cannot claim a MSCP is an essential improvement to the infrastructure of Haslemere and definitive answer to the town’s parking problems when you have had no open consultation and there is no robust supporting evidence. How will you help your constituents in a collaborative and inclusive way to achieve a proper long term parking solution for Haslemere?