The councillor sat alone in the witness box looking across the court, looking at times as though he had been brought there for trial. Several times during the meeting, he might well have been justified in thinking that was the case.
Ludlow Town Council’s meetings take place in the historic eighteenth century Magistrates Court, a building like so much of Ludlow steeped in history. Was history made as this meeting? Only time will tell but last night might just have marked the beginning of the end of the Sunday car parking charges debacle.
The former Magistrates Court was packed out for the meeting, which also saw excellent presentations for Ludlow Car Club and Ludlow in Bloom. The evening sparked into life when Rai Fisher stood in the jury box to speak on behalf of many of the town traders. Her voice cracked with anger as she read out a list of charges, accusing Martin Taylor-Smith and his co-defendants Rosanna Taylor-Smith and Shropshire Council of imposing the scheme against local wishes.
Rai told the assembly that more than 1,000 signatures had been collected against the scheme. Informing the courtroom that visitor numbers to Ludlow are down 30%, she pleaded that “Ludlow should not be turned into a museum.” And in the manner of a barrister addressing a jury about to retire to consider its verdict, she repeatedly asked: “Why was this regulation passed?”
Martin Taylor-Smith browsed his iPad in the witness box, seemingly oblivious to the accusations. But a deep frown developed and he looked for all the world as though he was the accused in the dock.
Robin Pote stood from the public benches to defend the scheme on behalf of the Town Centre Resident’s Association. He was clear that removal of all Sunday street parking charges was the preferred option of the Association. He pleaded that in the current financial situation, the Association believed that charging for parking on the streets on Sunday is the best option – though he did not sound comfortable in saying it.
Martin Taylor-Smith was barred from the Mayor from speaking in the public session. His thunderous looks increased.
It was in any event, time for the Shropshire Councillors to address the meeting. Rosanna Taylor-Smith was first up talking about resurfacing of roads and speed bumps. Then of course she turned to Sunday parking. She defended her role and that of Robin Pote.
The delay in announcing introduction of eight Super Sunday parking days in Ludlow was, she assured everyone, due to the need for it to go to a town council meeting. “That’s why the announcement was delayed.” It was the town council that was at fault.
If it had been within the rules of the hearing, I would have asked the simple question: “If the parking initiative for Ludlow had been planned all along, why did Shropshire Council leader Keith Barrow quite categorically tell BBC Radio Shropshire on 28 February that the Super Sunday initiative would not be extended to Ludlow?”
At last Martin Taylor-Smith got his chance to address his accusers. He chose to speak as a member of the public not a councillor. He stood with his hands folded, face flushed, addressing councillors much as a sergeant major might berate a dishevelled bunch of privates.
He began with comments on reports about town councillors in the local press, stirring a flurry of objections from councillors. “I will not be gagged,” he declared, angrily dismissing the objections. “Let him get it over with,” the mayor advised the meeting in a rather weary tone. Taylor-Smith’s admonitions soon moved on to parking.
“We are not stupid,” he told the council and traders. His ire rose as he described the parking petition as a “thoroughly dishonest document.” He repeatedly declared that the parking charges were part of a package, which includes Sunday park and ride. He accused Rai Fisher of taking her script “straight off the script in the orange magazine” [a reference to Lib Dem Focus]. Rai objected at this and other comments but was repeatedly warned by the Mayor that she would be thrown out if she interjected again. Martin continued a while, justifying among other matters such as the hundreds of thousands of pounds Shropshire Council spends on consultants. Then he sat and wagged his finger across the room at the traders in the jury box.
The council then turned to routine and important business that is a little too dull to report, but before long it had returned to parking charges. Mandy Philips spoke about how excessive charges in London had closed her business in Islington. Graham Perks said the policy was damaging to the town and called for an independent review. Susan McCormack that the policy was “quite clearly penalising Ludlow [and] we have not been well treated.” Viv Parry told the meeting that an ambulance was given a parking ticket a couple of weeks ago. Not a word was uttered in support of the scheme.
The thirteen councillors proved unlucky for the Taylor-Smiths. The council voted unanimously for an independent review of Ludlow’s Sunday parking charges. The details of this will be considered at the next meeting after town clerk Gina Wilding has investigated options.
A number of things are clear to me after this meeting. There is now a near total breakdown in relations between two of our town’s Shropshire councillors and the town council. And Ludlow is a unique town that needs a unique parking policy. Such a policy can only be achieved by permitting all parking polices to be decided locally, not in Shirehall.