Sunday, October 29, 2006

Richmond's 'green' parking permit con

Richmond upon Thames in south west London has seen the latest outbreak in efforts to ramp up taxes on the already over-burdened car user citing global warming.

Despite the fact that energy use in homes and businesses is by far the biggest reason for Britain's carbon emissions - and encouraging energy conservation therefore likely to make a far more productive contribution to reducing total emissions - Richmond council has joined the ranks of unimaginative politicians and unjustifiably decided to pick on the car user yet again.

That this idea comes from Richmond council is no surprise when we discover it is controlled by the Liberal Democrats. This is the party that signalled its intention to excessively victimise car users in an absurd
car tax policy proposed at their recent conference.

Charges hit more than 'wealthy'

There are so many disturbing features about this latest proposal that it's hard to know where to begin.

First let's deal with the idea that this is a plan to 'make the wealthy pay more' for choosing big, polluting cars. In fact, its implications go far wider. Even best-selling small city cars like the Mini, Ford Fiesta and Nissan Micra are in the
Band D set to be hit with a 10% increase in permit charges. That's an increase four times the rate of inflation.

Looking at the next band up, with permits due to cost 30% more under the new regime, even very average family cars like the 1.8 litre Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra appear.

So what exactly do Richmond council expect people to use in order to avoid these excessively increased charges? Or could the intention possibly be just to get their hands on more of people's hard-earned cash and global warming is just a handy excuse?

Because this plan, as it stands, will quite obviously hit not just the wealthy or owners of large cars, but the far larger number trying to get by on average incomes using a wide range of very normal, average cars.

Complicating factors

There are also several complicating factors. For example, the purchase price of all new Land Rovers - the dreaded 'polluting 4x4s' we hear so many complaints about - will from next year include the cost of off-setting three years worth of their carbon emissions.

So, actually, a brand new Land Rover is carbon neutral for its first 45,000 miles and so far better for the environment in that period than any other car. But is Richmond going to inspect the mileages of new Land Rovers and exempt all those showing under 45,000 from their new resident permit charges? They would, if they were really interested in promoting pro-environment action.

What's more, there is some debate about the real fuel economy under everyday conditions of the Toyota Prius, the only car in the council's proposed 50% reduction
Band B which isn't too small to be suitable for average family use.

Even if this plan were to be focussed only on larger cars, let's be clear. Owners of 'gas guzzling' cars already pay much more for their choice, by definition. The more fuel a car uses, the more fuel tax is paid. And let's not forget, the government's share of the price of a litre of fuel is more than 70%. Car tax is also now graduated by emissions, meaning they also pay more for that too - far more than is ever spent on maintaining roads.

These are already massive 'green' taxes car users are paying, and have long been paying - the owners of 'gas guzzling' cars more than any. Yet is this massive existing government income already being used to help 'save' the environment? Hardly.

Council hypocrisy

But beyond the transparant real agenda of this plan, it's the blatant hypocrisy of Richmond council that's most galling. They're proposing to hammer thousands of middle income local car users over the cost of parking a car outside their own house (on which they presumably already pay a large slice of Council Tax) spouting solemn lectures about the threat of global warming while, according to the Times report on the proposal, not only maintaining car parking facilities for their own staff but even offering them subsidies.

If the threat of global warming were truly as urgent and action as necessary as they claim, then getting their own house in order is surely a pre-requisite of preaching to others - certainly of being taken seriously and avoiding a backlash come the next election.

It's very hard to avoid the conclusion that this plan is motivated not so much by concern for the environment as, yet again, by a desire to raise revenue from the already over-paying car user, hoping they won't complain if the plan is dressed up in a green banner.

Richmond Council is currently consulting on their plans and wants feedback. You can comment

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