Council charge to health centre 'daylight robbery'

Cheshire East Council has been accused of “daylight robbery” by charging a fee of more than £4,000 to Holmes Chapel Health Centre.
The health centre was charged for access through the library car park during extension work at the medical practice.
Dane Valley councillor Les Gilbert urged Cheshire East to waive the fee because access was required for the development, which he said would meet the needs of a growing population.
The £4,320 charge followed a request from the health centre for prolonged use of four car park spaces during the extension work. There are no parking charges in the library car park.
In a notice of motion to try and block the fee, Coun Gilbert had said it “amounts to profiteering at the expense of the NHS”.
He also said the car park produced no income for the council and the charge added “unnecessary costs” to a project to improve public services in Cheshire East.
However the council responded to explain the charge had been levied in accordance with the council's existing policy on suspension of parking bays, which was publicly available on its website.
The information there said examples of where parking dispensations would not be granted included builders’ vans, for convenient access to tools/supplies. This, the council said, was not essential and they would be advised to unload their vehicle and then park in a permitted area.
A meeting took place in March with Coun Gilbert and Coun Andrew Kolker, his Dane Valley Ward colleague, along with Cheshire East's Cabinet member for environment and regeneration Coun Nick Mannion and other officers to explain the basis of the dispensation charging policy.
Cheshire East has now decided that, having considered Coun Gilbert's notice of motion, it is not considered appropriate to waive the council's existing charging policy in the case of the health centre.
In its decision the council said: “Charges for the temporary suspension of parking bays are commonly levied by local authorities nationally. It would not be unreasonable to expect the building contractors to have made an allowance and accounted for such a charge in their contingency planning and cost estimate. There does not appear to be any reason to warrant a waiver of the charging policy in this case.”
In response, Coun Kolker said: “The justification is consistent application of policy. We were urging members to authorise a departure from standard policy. Consistency is required and it is common practice for public sector organisations to charge each other.
“But we said it was daylight robbery as the council would lose no income as there are no charges on the library car park.”
Work has now resumed on the new extension after being halted during the lockdown.
The “much-needed” extension will add a number of consulting rooms to Holmes Chapel Health Centre and will also see redevelopment of the waiting room, the reception and the dispensary.
A message on its website to patients said: “There will be inevitable disruption during the build which we anticipate will last around six months. We will try to keep this to an absolute minimum, but ask our patients to please bear with us while we make these essential changes to the building, which will ultimately benefit all.”
The health centre was asked to comment but it had not responded by deadline yesterday (Wednesday).