CORONAVIRUS: Council delays introduction of controversial charges

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The introduction of unpopular green bin charges and increased car parking fees have been put back until spring next year due to the impact of the coronavirus.

Current Government guidance prompted unusual scenes in the chamber at Stratford District Council last week as social distancing measures were put into effect.

The extraordinary meeting of the council was attended by just nine members, each sitting some distance apart, with some officers attending via video link.

During the meeting a number of significant changes to the way in which the council will operate during the coronavirus pandemic were agreed, each designed to allow council business and decision making to continue.

These included delegating powers to the chief executive to make grants to support the local community and economy and to incur expenditure required by the council to deal with the impact of coronavirus.

Powers currently delegated to the Cabinet will be transferred to the council leader for the time being, except for those powers reserved to the cabinet by law.

Other changes include delegating decisions on planning applications to the head of planning and housing (subject to conditions) and cancelling all council, committee and sub-committee meetings including the Annual Meeting on 22nd May.

All these changes are subject of ongoing review by the chairman of the council in consultation with the chief executive, council leader, leader of the opposition and the chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

There was little discussion when it came to deferring the green bin charges and parking fees, though council leader Cllr Tony Jefferson warned that the authority may face very serious issues about funding in 2021.

Both measures had already been approved by the council earlier this year, but the authority will now delay the green bin charges until at least March 2021 and parking increases until at least April 2021.

Cllr Jefferson said: “At the moment our costs are rising rapidly, our income is deteriorating rapidly and there are calculations going on at the moment about the impact on the council. The reality is that by the time we get through to 2021 we will be facing a very different environment to 2019, there will be some very serious issues about council funding by then, that is why we are deferring these issues.”

During discussions Liberal Democrat member Cllr Kate Rolfe asked whether the council could put in place a scheme allowing free parking for key workers and volunteers in the town at the Bridgefoot Car Park.

Cllr Rolfe said: “We have a situation in Stratford that the town trust and the town council are working on to have a lot of volunteers who will be going to the local shops in Stratford to pick up food parcels and prescriptions and we also have key workers working in those food shops. I wondered whether this council would consider suspending any car parking charges in the Bridgefoot car park for those key workers and for those people who are picking up emergency supplies for our most vulnerable.”

Tony Perks, deputy chief executive, explained that although it would probably send out the wrong message to make all parking free, the council could look to implement a scheme by which key workers were provided with passes to allow them to park for free.

The council has since offered free parking to all NHS staff in its car parks.