Published: 06:00, 20 October 2020
| Updated: 13:51, 20 October 2020
Incensed business owners in Thanet have hit out at council officers after collectively receiving 19 parking fines over a two-week period - in spaces which had previously been available for them to use for more than a decade.
Lease holders in The Centre Shopping Precinct, Margate, received a letter from Thanet District Council (TDC) dated July 29, stating it would be withdrawing all authority to park in the bays in the rear yard shared with the TDC offices, requiring an annual permit costing £1,000.
A parking suspension notice sign dated October 2 then appeared, stating that no unauthorised vehicles can wait or load in the rear yard until further notice.
But with restrictions now in place the managers and owners are not even able to apply to become an authorised permit holder until April 2021, when the charge is included in the fees and charges schedule for 2020/21.
Vanessa Marshall, manager of the Shoezone branch at The Centre, said: "My staff can't park out the back anymore, they have to pay for parking elsewhere.
"I feel like they're now harassing everybody that parks out there - I know for a fact they sit at the window of the council offices, they see you parking out there and they send out the enforcement person around in minutes to ticket them.
"It's a form of harassment now, because they don't want us to park here.
"I've been in the shop for four years and never had a problem with parking out there, but now they want to charge £1,000 a year for a parking spot - and they're not showing us how they're justifying that."
The spaces back onto the district council's building, and Vanessa said they mostly sit empty throughout the day.
Thanet District Council's annual charge for a single bay is £1,000 plus VAT annually, and businesses will also have to fork out for business rates on the bay.
The decision has now left shops like Shoezone unable to unload stock into the premises, with no vehicular access available through the pedestrianised front of the store between 9am and 6pm.
Weekly deliveries to the shop are now hampered, with the lorry having to park on the main road outside the council offices instead of unloading in the quiet rear yard.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic already putting strain on local businesses, Vanessa feels the council is just putting them at a greater financial risk.
She said: "They want all these businesses to stay open but they're making it impossible.
"Jut let us have our parking spots back - this is how it's been for all these years, so we can't work out why they're kicking off now."
Matt Day, owner of Day's Grills, was hit with several of the parking tickets last week on his van.
He believes the original lease from TDC dating back 20 years ago granted each business that backs onto the rear yard a bay to use.
But when he asked the council to track down a copy through a Freedom of Information request, they claimed that it would take too many hours for the FOI officer to locate, and he would have to pay for the service out of his own pocket.
Matt, who lives in Broadstairs, had also been told by a parking officer that he received a text from his boss that there were people using the spaces to the rear of the building.
The 32-year-old said: "We asked him 'does your boss text you about any other people on the street?' He said 'No, he's just texted me about this car park.' So in a way, it's harassment."
Matt and his employees have started a process of appealing the £35 parking tickets with the council.
But he has a plan for the fines if he loses.
"I'm just going to go in there and pay them all with 1ps," he joked.
Jon Penfold, owner of Penfold's H20, said the decision to regulate parking is affecting how he can operate his business.
He said: "This is an aquatic shop, so we've got large fish tanks, large orders and none of it has any way of getting in here if we don't use that rear entrance.
"We used to be able to tell a customer to bring their car round the rear so we could load it in and then they can drive away, but that's not even an option anymore."
Jon added: "They're just doing whatever they want, there's no other way of getting around it."
'They're just doing whatever they want, there's no other way of getting around it...'
Despite the signage clearly stating that businesses cannot use the rear yard to load, TDC claim that they do allow loading and unloading.
A spokesperson from the council said: "Although there is no parking permitted for unauthorised vehicles in this location, in line with the current Traffic Regulation Order, loading and unloading can take place by commercial vehicles.
"If loading or unloading is not seen to take place within the 10 min observation period, a Penalty Charge Notice may be issued.
"We have written to the businesses to explain the situation and will amend the signage to ensure this is clear."
They added: "The area behind the council building, just off the B2055, is private land owned by Thanet District Council. The lease with the Centre’s managers (LCP Group) and their tenants does not include parking.
"It is not currently a public car park and at present no income is generated from bays in this area. Given the interest from some businesses who back onto this land, we are offering them the opportunity to apply for an annual license for a designated parking bay.
"An annual fee of £1,000 is in line with other parking bays licensed to businesses in our public car parks, such as Crofts Place.
"The council is keen to work with and support local businesses and has been in dialogue with the businesses here for over a year to ensure all parties are clear of the situation and to progress a satisfactory way forward."