Stephanie Holt-Castle (Interim Director of Environment, Planning and Enforcement) and Helen Page (Interim Head of Countryside and Community Development) were in attendance for this item.
1. Mrs Hohler (Deputy Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services) introduced the report that set out the Pay and Display and Annual Parking fees and charges for Kent Country Parks following an annual review. The report sought approval to increase fees and charges for Pay and Display and Annual Season Ticket fees and to delegate authority to the Head of Country Parks to annually review and publish revised fees and charges subject to a number of key principles.
2. Ms Page highlighted to Members the typographical error within the report and confirmed that the key principles referred to in the recommendation were not listed in Appendix A and instead could be found within paragraph 1.9 of the report. Kent Country Parks were a key asset to the Council’s portfolio and generated a degree of income that was then invested directly back into the parks and their facilities. A recent review of the charges identified a significant increase in Blue Badge season ticket holders visiting the parks, however, the operational cost of administering the Blue Badges had not increased over the past years. Therefore, the report proposed that the annual price of both season tickets would rise from 1 September 2019 by £2 meaning that the standard ticket would be increased to £52 (costing customer £1 per week to use all nine country parks) and the Blue Badge season ticket would increase to £5 (£9.62 per week). The £5 figure was set at the cost to make the processing cost of all Blue Badge season ticket applications neutral.
3. Officers responded to Comments and questions as follows:
(a) Ms Page confirmed that it cost the service £7.57 to administer Blue Badge Season Tickets, however, the current charge for this was £3 and had remained at that same cost for the past two years. The proposed increase would ensure that that the provision of Blue Badges was not at a cost to other customers who purchased season tickets. The current £3 figure did not provide any contribution to the running-cost of the parks and therefore, the service needed to ensure that future costs of the Blue Badges were not being supplemented due to not charging the appropriate amount.
(b) Mr Lewis proposed that the Blue Badge Season Ticket be amended to £4 instead of £5 in order to make it more equitable. Mr Lewis’s proposal was not seconded and fell.
(c) In response to whether future decisions regarding an increase to fees and charges should be delegated to the Head of Country Parks, Mrs Holt-Castle informed Members that the delegation of authority to make minimal increases would reduce the need for further Executive decisions to be made in order to respond to the changing market. The constitution states that where a decision affects two or more electoral divisions, it must be taken as a key decision, however upon discussion with the Cabinet Member for Communities and Regulatory Services, it was agreed that the recommendation should include a clause within it that delegates authority to the Head of Country Parks to annually review and publish revised fees and charges and this would be subject to consultation with the responsible Cabinet Member.
(d) Ms Page said that there was an online payment system to purchase Season tickets, however, a majority of Blue Badge Ticket holders continued to use the contact centre which required more administrative support. The £5 fee still failed to cover the entire cost of the operational fees (£7.57) generated through the application of Blue Badge Season Tickets, however, the view was taken that over a period of time more customers would be able to use the online purchasing system and therefore reduce admin costs.
4. RESOLVED that the proposed decision (19/00054) to be taken by the Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services to increase fees and charges for Pay and Display and Annual Parking Season Ticket fees and to delegate authority to the Head of Country Parks to annually review and publish revised fees and charges, subject to the application of a number of key principles, be endorsed.