Parking – no one wants to know

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Ch Supt Roskilly (2nd r.) attempts to convince the public while Commissioner Bourne (2nd l.) looks on

The evening of Thursday March 3 saw the long-awaited visit of Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne together with two senior police officers, Divisional Commander Chief Superintendent Di Roskilly and Chief Inspector Paul Phelps.

To a packed Community Hall Katy Bourne explained that her job was to hold the police to account, to set a budget and to set strategy. The strategy should reflect what the community want. Both budget and strategy had been a challenge following the demand from central Government for savings of £60 million by 2020. Recently, however, the savings required had been reduced to £32 million. Sussex police, she said, were now graded as one of the top five forces in the Country.

Policing has to adapt as circumstances change, and, in particular, cyber crime in all its forms including that related to sex and abuse of children, took up considerable resources. The policing model that we are used to with a visible presence on our streets, in the form of PCSOs was no longer possible or, in many cases, appropriate and Sussex Police have re-written their neighbourhood policing model.

PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) are to be invited to re-apply for their jobs, following which they will be ‘up-skilled’ to enable them to have additional responsibilities (this probably accounts for the worrying rumour that the Camber PCSO was to be made redundant, leaving the village and beach without a police presence). The main base for all community officers would now be Battle from where they would be dispatched to the areas that needed them.

The mantra that was repeated often during the presentation was “Threat, Harm, Risk” , particularly in relation to the elderly and vulnerable and this would be used to assess the action to be taken both in prevention of, and reaction to crime. Rye was regarded as an area of low crime.

Most of the audience, however, and as became evident the moment questions from the floor were invited, had come to hear about parking control – what were the police going to do about a situation that was now out of hand, with regulations being flagrantly ignored by local drivers as well as visitors, traders and delivery vans.

The answer was twofold: first, there was no longer the manpower or the financial resources to deal with parking offences unless the offence was causing real danger. The cost involved in issuing tickets, chasing and collecting fines and dealing with non-payers was not inconsiderable (£70) and as the money collected went straight to Government and not to the police, they were not reimbursed for the financial outlay.

Secondly, a decision was made some years ago to change illegal parking from a criminal to a civil offence and to be enforced by local authorities employing wardens. This is funded by allowing the local authority to keep all fines imposed and they have until December 2017 to sign up to the scheme. Most authorities have already agreed to it and of the few who have not, Rother District Council is one.

Councillor Ampthill was asked to explain why this was the case. He said that Rother had always been firmly against the idea of civil enforcement although he, himself (and doubtless influenced by the mood of the crowd around him), was beginning to slowly come round to the idea, as were a few of his colleagues on RDC. However the main obstacle was Bexhill who were obdurate in their refusal, so far, to consider the matter. They would have to be persuaded, Cllr Ampthill said. In addition, to make the scheme financially more viable, it would help if Rother could combine resources with neighbouring Wealden D.C. but they,too, had flatly refused to adopt CPE (Civil Parking Enforcement).

Rye Council, together with Battle had suggested that they would jointly cover the cost of a warden or PCSO up to December 2017 but the Chief Constable had vetoed this unless a firm written confirmation was received from Rother that they would take up CPE from that date. This could only be provided once Rother had agreed to CPE and Rother could only agree once Bexhill, who have sufficient councillors to out-vote the smaller towns, such as Rye and Battle, could be persuaded to consider others as well as themselves.

One possible means of helping to alleviate part of the problem was suggested by Francis Armstrong, a member of the Sussex Elders Commission on Police and Crime; he wondered if a similar system to Operation Crackdown could be set up, but this time, instead of targeting speeding, would concentrate on parking infringements and obstruction which would be reported to the police. Chief Supt. Roskilly thought this might be possible but was careful to give no suggestion of any commitment.

The problem, for the moment, therefore, seems intractable although Cllr Ampthill was left in no doubt that he was expected by the people of Rye to get to work on his fellow councillors and convince them that the current situation is unacceptable and they must think again about CPE. Rye town councillors were also urged to begin serious lobbying of the district council.

To sum up: the police have made it clear that they are not interested in parking control, Rother are continuing their stance of not wanting to take it on under CPE, so there is no foreseeable change in the current situation. The only point agreed was that signs to car parks could, and should, be more visible. So there we have it, more street furniture clutter and, so far as the police and RDC are concerned, the problem is solved.

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