Dear Editor,

IT IS immensely disappointing that Woking’s MP, Jonathan Lord, has started a petition objecting to the reduction of free parking from three to two hours at Woking Park. 

Woking Borough Council’s Executive is entirely sympathetic to the impact of the charge, fully recognising the importance of health, leisure and wellbeing and made this decision with huge reluctance against an economic backdrop that made it necessary.

Mr Lord is fully aware of the council’s dire financial situation. Costs have increased whilst council income that would previously have subsidised the cost of running the car park has fallen. Mr Lord is also fully aware of the enormity of the problems of council borrowing, which had been allowed to spiral over many years, under a Conservative administration, as we are now working with Government-appointed inspectors.

Residents have raised concerns for many years, yet there was no public involvement from Mr Lord. Instead, only unquestioning support for the Conservative administration on the council, as the borrowing spiralled.

There was no public involvement from Mr Lord in 2016, when costs for Victoria Square increased to £460million against a value of £204m, creating a precarious financial position for the council.

The signs of a growing crisis and the cries of concern from residents grew louder and louder, whilst Mr Lord did little except continue to vote in Westminster for lower levels of local government funding."

Council leader Ann-Marie Barker

Mr Lord was also silent as costs spiralled further towards £700m, save for an emphatic defence of the then-Conservative administration that allowed it to happen.

The current administration faces a £9.5m shortfall in next year’s budget. That equates to around 20 per cent of what the council spends on services. As Mr Lord worked on his petition, senior officers continued their heart-breaking work to identify spending reductions in every directorate, including establishing the cost of delivering statutory-only services. No officer, and no councillor of any political party wants to do this, yet it is the only option available to us.

The council’s financial situation is now existential. The signs of a growing crisis and the cries of concern from residents grew louder and louder over a period of many years, whilst Mr Lord did little except continue to vote in Westminster for lower levels of local government funding. The Council is now overwhelmed by a crippling debt of more than 50 times its annual spending on services.

Mr Lord didn’t start a petition as residents’ concerns grew, or when the independent report identified leadership failings. He didn’t start a petition when residents signalled dwindling trust, nor as debt spiralled out of control. He didn’t start a petition as the new administration engaged with Government-appointed inspectors to uncover the underlying problems and propose practical, workable solutions. 

Of all the things Woking’s MP could have done to intervene in a worsening financial position, as committed borrowing reached £2.4billion and interest payments reached £62m, he decides to start a petition on a £1.80 car parking charge.

The Executive remains open to any practical support in the face of the colossal challenge ahead of us. This, though, Mr Lord’s first showing on the subject, is underwhelming.

Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Cllr Will Forster, Cllr Dale Roberts, Cllr Ellen Nicholson, Cllr Ian Johnson, Cllr Liam Lyons

* WHAT are your thoughts? Is it important to press on and consider the parking petition. Or does Woking's mountain of debt dwarf everything else now? Comment below, or send a letter to the News & Mail, via [email protected].

For more readers' letters and local comment, see the 6 April edition of the newspaper, in shops from Thursday.