London Road Car Park: Your Questions AnsweredPosted on: Friday, November 5, 2021
The proposed removal of four trees at London Road to extend the car park has created a lot of local interest. Some people are very much against the loss of trees and have challenged the Council to justify why it is necessary. Understandably, it’s been suggested that providing more car parking and removing trees undermines the Council’s commitment to the environment. This Q&A is intended to help answer questions that are being raised.
Why is the Council extending London Road car park?
A number of years ago, the Council decided to extend the London Road car park for two main reasons. Firstly, to generate additional income which could be ploughed back into supporting local services. Secondly, to provide more parking spaces at the town’s busiest car park.
Why is it necessary to remove four trees to create a car park?
The Council does not own the land and therefore when it agreed to extend the car park, it entered into a legal agreement with the private landowner to lease the land for 25 years. This lease requires the Council to build an extension to the current car park on a designated area of land and this area of land includes the four trees.
Understandably, people have asked whether more car parking is really needed, given the changing nature of town centres and the current demand for car parking. That’s a fair point and the Council is committed to reducing car usage and to encouraging alternative forms of transport. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the Council is in a legally binding contract to extend the car park. If it was just a case of the Council deciding not to go ahead with the scheme then that’s what it would do. The reality of course is that the Council cannot simply ignore or withdraw from its legal obligations.
What would it cost to save the trees?
The Council entered into a 25 year lease which commits the Council to paying £30,000 per year to the landowner, except for an initial two year rent free period, which ended on 22 January 2021. The lease also requires the Council to build and pay for the car park. In return, the Council will receive income, enough to generate a surplus on the lease payments to be ploughed back into local services. If the Council did nothing and therefore didn’t go ahead with the car park extension, it would still have to pay the annual lease payments of £30,000 for the remaining 23 year period of the lease, and still have a legal obligation to create the car park by the end of the lease term.
To be clear, this would mean a total outlay of £660,000 plus the cost of building the car park by 2044 (the end of the lease term). And of course, the Council would not be receiving any contribution from car parking fee income to offset against the annual lease payments of £30,000. All in all, the cost of “doing nothing” would cost the residents of our district over £1 million.
This amount would need to be funded from existing savings which have already been earmarked for other initiatives. This may, therefore, mean not bringing forward other projects or we may have to consider reductions in some of our core services. We may also need to consider raising some of the additional funding through increases in Council Tax. To put this simply, if the whole of this cost of over £1million was to be funded from Council Tax increases then this would mean an increase of 13.7% or almost 5,500 properties at average band D Council Tax level bearing up this cost.
The other option is to buy out the lease or purchasing the freehold of the site. This would cost a minimum of £600,000 (the asking price for the land by the landowner). Again, this sum of money would have to be paid for by the Council by using its savings which have already been earmarked for other uses or by raising new sources of funding. To put this simply again, if the £600,000 is raised through Council Tax increases then this amount equates to an increase of 8.2% or 3297 properties at an average Band D Council Tax.
To put this latter and less expensive option into perspective, £600,000 is equivalent to paying for 22 new electric vehicles to add to our fleet.
Are there any bats in the trees?
Very recently, claims have been made that there are bats living within the trees and buildings at London Road car park. That has yet to be established. There is, however, evidence of a number of new bat boxes that have been placed in the trees. It is of course important for an appropriately qualified and licenced ecologist to determine whether there are bats roosting in the trees. Such an ecologist visited the site on Monday 1 November but he was prevented from undertaking a survey by campaigners.
To date, campaigners have expressed their views with passion and respect but disappointingly, things took a turn for the worse - staff were verbally abused, called ‘scum’ and intimidated during the course of their duties. The police advised that the ecologist should return another day to complete the survey.
What are the next steps?
The site will be fenced off – we need to stress that this is private land and not public open space. An ecologist will undertake an assessment of the site and, subject to their findings, the trees will be removed. Before any tree removal works are undertaken, the ecologist’s findings will be taken into account.
Why is the Council doing this when it says it is committed to the environment?
Councillors often have difficult choices to make, balancing different priorities and different points of view. Councillors care passionately about the environment and the Council has been at the forefront of many environmental initiatives. For example, it is:-
- committed to planting 10,000 trees before 2023 with 7225 trees having been planted so far
- extending its solar panels provision to all Council buildings including its leisure centres
- increasing the number of electric vehicle charging points across the district
- currently trialling two electric vehicles with the aim of fully electrifying all our fleet once they have reached the end of their useful life
Ultimately, a choice had to be made between saving four trees and incurring a cost of at least £600,000. There is a great deal of empathy with those campaigning to save the trees but Councillors have a responsibility to tax payers who live throughout Newark and Sherwood.
A message to the campaigners
Councillors are stuck between a rock and a hard place on this decision. They have listened to your concerns and are acutely aware of how strongly some people feel. But they have been elected to represent the whole of Newark and Sherwood and to make decisions, tough as this one is.
The vast majority of campaigners have expressed their opinions with passion and respect. It was therefore disappointing that some chose to behave in an intimidating and insulting way towards staff on Monday 1 November. Additional Council and police resources will now be deployed to progress the ecology survey, fencing works and tree works. It is sincerely hoped that these activities are able to proceed without further interference.
A summary video of the questions with Councillor Keith Girling is available below: