All over the country, local councils are resorting to imposing parking charges as a way of raising income while their council tax rates are capped and fixed. Parking has long been a nightmare in most parts of Labour-Green-run Oxford, where having a car at all is seen as a crime. Similar charges are now being brought in at Newbury, where Conservatives and LibDems are in charge.
You have to pay in many cases to park outside your own house. You have to pay again when you go to the shops and you cannot park anywhere near to them. You have to pay to park when you go out for the evening or go to church. Putting in controlled parking zones costs the council a lot of money - the one in Magdalen Street in Oxford cost £445,000. So they then have to charge more to cover the costs of the parking scheme. The most unjust thing is, in my view, when you have to pay to park your car when you are just trying to get to work. It's a tax on work. It's a penalty for getting out of bed and making some contribution to society.
The people using the Thornhill Park and Ride now have to pay £3 if they park there longer than 11 hours. This means that those who live in Oxford and want to take the coach to London daily have to pay to park their cars in the car park, which is now being expanded. A charge of £3 per day adds up to £15 per week and assuming you work 48 weeks per year, comes to an annual bill of £720. That is extortionate. It far outweighs the small tax concessions that most people got in the Budget. It is making people pay to work.
At last night's meeting of Risinghurst Parish Council a lot was said about the inconvenience caused by people parking their cars all day outside somebody else's house, or in somebody else's street. I see how that could be irksome. However, there is another side to this. What would be the impact if all those people stopped working? I think that any steps taken to address the problem must try to offer the drivers a positive alternative, and not just regard them as a pest.
Who are these commuters who park at Thornhill? One of them I know is one of the hardest-working people I have ever met. A former nurse, who now works in Occupational Health, she used to live and work in London until she had to change jobs and found one in Reading. So she rented out her London flat and moved to Oxford. The cost of living in rented accommodation here and commuting to Reading were bad enough, even before a series of bad tenants cheated her by refusing to pay the rent on her flat. After wasting a lot of money on legal fees, she "won" the case, got no back payments from the vanished tenants and lost the flat. She then bought a small house out at Bayworth, near Abingdon. It is an ex-council house in a quiet, rural position. She had to do everything to it - redecorating, installing double glazing and putting in a new boiler. At this time she was working in Oxford.
But eventually that job too expired and she found that the only prospect of more work was in London. So she started commuting back to the same area where she used to own her own flat. Can you imagine the frustration of having to do that? She drives to Oxford from Bayworth every morning at 7 am and gets a coach to London. This means that she has to park somewhere. Until recently she could park free of charge at Thornhill Park and Ride. But now that privilege will cost her £720 per year. Where will she find the extra money? I really don't know, but I wonder if these parking charges should be made tax deductible. I'm not saying they are any worse than high rail fares or high petrol costs for other commuters, but there are arguments for making it easier for anybody to get to and from work. If these people all stopped working because, after all the overheads and peripheral expenses, it just wasn't worth the daily grind, that would have a considerable negative impact on our economy.