Care workers across Lancashire could soon be offered parking permits to make it easier for them to visit those in need of their help.
But one councillor claims the move has come only after residents in Lancaster - the sole district currently offering such a scheme - “made a fuss” at the prospect of having it withdrawn.
The planned move is part of a wider consultation which is due to take place over the future of residential parking permits in the county, which could see more streets covered by permit-only restrictions - but only if locals say they want them.
Responsibility for all the schemes has recently been assumed by Lancashire County Council, ending a previous hybrid arrangement where either county hall or district authorities administered the service in different areas.
As part of the process, residents in Lancaster were told that carers’ permits would be coming to an end. But Erica Lewis, county councillor for Lancaster South East, told a meeting of the authority’s internal scrutiny committee that she had “serious concerns” that the planned change came before the consultation.
“This caused a lot of consternation amongst health services and care workers [in Lancaster],” County Cllr Lewis said. “It is troubling for me that it appears changes were made before the statutory consultation took place.”
However, the council’s Group Manager for Highways, Daniel Herbert, said the only change so far was to “the way [the scheme] is administered”.
“All the facilities are still there [and will remain] until we have completed the statutory consultation - which will address the proposed changes,” he said.
Those changes could see carers’ permits being rolled out across the county, at a proposed charge of £10 per year. That would see the scheme reintroduced in Preston, where a similar arrangement had previously been in operation.
Elsewhere in the county, carers have had to rely on residents’ visitor permits in order to park close to the homes of their clients. But cabinet member for highways, Keith Iddon, said he wanted the scheme introduced across all twelve Lancashire County Council districts, after witnessing the strength of feeling in Lancaster.
“Anybody working as a carer, midwife or those giving end of life care doesn’t want to be worried about where [they] are going to park. They’ve got to get there and get the job done,” County Cllr Iddon said.
“I’d love to [offer the carers’ permits] for free, because these people do a remarkable job and look after us all. I can’t do [that], as the scheme has to be administered and there’s a lot of work - but there’s a balance here, “ he added.
The consultation is currently on hold while a new proposal is drawn up. Any change would not affect the standalone council areas of Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen.
Meanwhile, residential parking permit schemes could be resurrected - if there is sufficient support for them.
There are currently 90 permit areas across the county and all are now administered by Lancashire County Council. County hall had originally planned only to oversee existing schemes - and not introduce any new ones.
But now each county council division could be eligible for an additional permit area - if councillors are willing to “do the legwork” and find out if residents are really prepared to pay for them.
“The biggest cost we have is the consultation - it takes a lot of officer time and costs a lot of money to do,” County Cllr Iddon said.
“In the past, we found people said they wanted a residents’ parking scheme, [but when] we went out to the expense of consultation, less than [the required] 85 percent [agreed].”
Now, councillors are being invited to undertake an informal consultation in their own areas. Committee member Matthew Salter, who spearheaded the idea in his own division, said it was important to take a “warts and all” approach - so that people understood they would have to pay for the permits.
Lancashire County Council is due consult on a standard £25 annual charge. Previous district council schemes had ranged from being free to costing £125 per year.