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Agenda Item No

 

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting: 24 March, 2014

 

Report of the Cabinet Member for Leisure, Parks, Culture and Sports Development

 

Fees and Charges: Countryside Service

 

Purpose of the Report

1.      To seek endorsement for changes to charges levied at Cosmeston Lakes and Porthkerry Country Parks, the Glamorgan Heritage Coast Centre, and in respect of the making of specific Public Path Orders.

Recommendations

1.         That the charges detailed in the report and in Appendices A, B, C and D for implementation in April 2014 be agreed.

2.         That charges set out in Appendices A, B, C and D be the maximum with the Director of Development Services having the ability to vary for promotions.

3.         That the Director of Development Services be delegated powers to waive charges for Public Path Orders where a substantive public interest exists.

4.         That the report is referred to the next meeting of Scrutiny (Economy & Environment) for information.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To reflect costs, opportunities and market conditions.

2.         To allow prices to be used as a marketing tool.

3.         To facilitate appropriate improvements to the Footpath network.

4.         For information.

Background

2.      Admissions, car parking and activity charges are normally reviewed annually for Countryside Service sites.

Relevant Issues and Options

Cosmeston Medieval Village

3.      In June 2012, after a review of the model of operation, the Medieval Village became a free entry site, essentially an extension to the free Country Park.  This reflected the loss of costumed staff, animals, etc resulting in a considerable net cost saving.

4.      Since then, whilst maintaining savings year on year, the site has been considerably improved, and now benefits from a strong volunteer workforce engaged in costumed tours and maintenance of the site.  Appendix A sets out proposed increases to the charges levied for extra services, such as guided tours.  It is felt that entry should remain free for 2014.  However, this is under further review with a view to levying an entry charge from 2015 after further growth in events and volunteer activities. Charges for Audio Wand tours are proposed to be reduced (reflecting limited take up) whilst charges for costumed guided tours are proposed to be increased, reflecting higher costs and demand.

5.      It is proposed to further increase charges for school activities, reflecting more closely the real cost of maintaining the facility.  There is an established differential between Vale and non-Vale schools.

Cosmeston Lakes Country Park

6.      As set out in Appendix B, it is proposed to largely increase charges by inflation or a little more.  Individual launch for fees for lake activities are proposed to increase more than annual launch fees to encourage use of the latter, which are cheaper to administer.

7.      Again school charges have been reviewed to more closely reflect costs, especially for non-Vale schools.  A new price for Ranger led educational talks is proposed to be introduced, a service previously often provided free or for donations.

8.      It is proposed to change the pricing structure for Ranger led walks to a minimum charge for a group, reflecting costs.

Porthkerry Country Park

9.      Most charges are in line with those proposed at Cosmeston, as set out in Appendix C

10.    At the point of review in February 2013, it was proposed to increase car parking charges from £2.50 to £3.00 (and coaches for £5.00 to £6.00).  Committee and Cabinet did not agree these increases and sought a review of the charging regime with a view to reducing or ending charges.  Prices hence remained unchanged for the 2013 season.

11.    Parking at Porthkerry is only charged for under specific conditions.  Charges are levied at weekends and bank holidays between Easter and September when the weather is fine.  These charges provide for the cost of attendants to manage car parking, an arrangement in place for several decades.

12.    The access road into Porthkerry is very narrow.  In addition, there are a number of private homes accessed through the Country Park.  It is essential to maintain clear emergency vehicle access at all times.  There have been historic incidents when poorly parked cars during busy periods have blocked the access road to such an extent that emergency vehicles could not pass.  Hence a need for additional staff to direct parking was identified, and the means of covering these additional costs was identified as charges for parking.

13.    When the weather is poor, charging is normally stopped even during the summer season.

14.    There is another way of managing cars and ensuring clear access is retained.  It is possible to implement a Traffic Regulation Order, and then levy fines for infringement in the same way as on an adopted highway.  However, it is legally essential to install double yellow lines to delineate such restricted areas.

15.    This poses three problems.  Firstly, double yellow lines on both sides of the access road for 1km through the park would be very unsightly in a country park setting and would be detrimental to the countryside character of such a special place.  Secondly, the Council's Traffic Engineer has recommended strongly against doing this as the 'visual effect' of lining on both sides of the road would lead to a perceived narrowing.  This could have the effect of encouraging drivers away from the edge of an already narrow two way road and increase the potential for accidents involving oncoming traffic.  Thirdly, there would be a considerable capital cost in lining a 1km road.  The road would need edge treatments and, with the cost of lining itself and the legal order this would require around £24,000 of investment.

16.    For these reasons I would recommend against Traffic Regulation Orders.

17.    In times of limited resources available to the public sector, the general direction of travel is to introduce parking charges so that the cost of using a service falls increasingly to the beneficiaries of that service.  The net cost of managing and maintaining Porthkerry Country Park in the current year is appropriately £150,000.  Whilst ongoing savings are sought, a restructure of the Countryside Service already being the subject of consultation and opportunities for additional income from third party service providers being sought, the Country Park will continue to be an expensive service.  Where there are limited opportunities for real savings in costs, consideration needs to be given to raising income from direct beneficiaries.  In this case, if a cost is incurred entirely from managing parking in particular, then there is a case for passing that cost directly to car users.

18.    In Cosmeston car parking is currently free, but during 2014/15 I will be reviewing that position and possibly making recommendations in 2015 to introduce charges so that such users contribute directly to the cost of running the facility.

19.    In the summer season at Porthkerry in 2013, income from car park charging was £10,200.  The cost of collecting these charges was £5,200.  Income varies hugely dependant on the weather and the exceptional summer in 2013 meant car parking was profitable.  In 2012, income was only £5,400, reflecting the difference in weather.  Charges are set based on expectations in order to cover typical costs.  I have therefore left the proposed charge for 2014/15 unchanged.

Glamorgan Heritage Coast Centre

20.    Charges are similar to those at the Country Parks.  Educational talks/visits at the Heritage Coast are priced higher than at Country Parks reflecting the fact that they tend to be considerably longer sessions covering much of a school day.  This has been further adjusted.

21.    Proposed charges are set out in Appendix D.

 

Discounts

22.    Until the current year the Council has offered a 50% discount for hiring of spaces such as Porthkerry Lodge within the Countryside Service for :

             Council Departments

               Community groups

               Charities

               Educational use

 

23.    This has led to some confusion in respect of certain organisations. For clarity therefore I am proposing that the following will benefit from a discount. In addition, and reflecting the need to reduce costs of providing the service, I am proposing that the discount is reduced to 30%. The primary effect of these changes would be to remove non vale schools and commercial organisations providing arguably educational activities from the concession list :

               Vale Council departments (including schools)

               Non profit making community use

               Charitable use.

 

Public Rights of Way

24.    The Council has the ability to recharge applicants for specific Rights of Way procedures. These are subject to an application having been submitted in accordance with a relevant section of Highways Act 1980 and/or Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and for which an entitlement to recover costs under The Local Authorities (Recovery of Costs for Public Path Orders) Regulations 1993 as amended by The Local Authorities (Charges for Overseas Assistance and Public Path Orders) Regulations 1996 exists.  The charges were last reviewed in 2010.

25.    The Rights of Way processes considered within this report include:

               Diversions

               Extinguishments

               Creations of new footpaths

              Gating (excluding Highways Act s147)

 

26.    Applications may be made in the public interest or those of a private party. Most applications are made in pursuit of a benefit to a private interest, such as to enable development, increase land value or increase privacy for a particular dwelling.

27.    DOE Circular 11/96 advises that authorities should produce a scale of charges that includes the typical and maximum amount an applicant will be expected to pay against an Order.  Authorities should have regard to economies of scale in determining this.  The Circular also clarifies that the Council is only entitled to recharge for costs actually incurred in the processing of an Order.  Costs cannot therefore be speculative though applicants can be invoiced as work is completed throughout the process.

28.    The costs recommended below address the maximum amount in the Scale of Charges.  Whilst the maximum amount is distinguished from the typical amount in most cases the two need not be mutually exclusive.  Economies of scale are addressed in the proposal by adding an incremental increase for each additional path included in the Order rather than requiring the full amount to be paid in respect of every path in a particular proposal. 

29.    In the case of Orders that have been objected to, and where negotiation has been unsuccessful in removing that objection, it will be necessary for the Council to submit the case to a Planning Inspector for determination. Authorities are not entitled to continue to record costs against an Order after such a submission. It should be noted however that these opposed Orders are likely to incur additional administrative costs prior to submission for determination and that this will be reflected in the final total.

30.    It is proposed that the Council retains discretion to waive costs either in full or part where an Order is required either wholly or partly in the interests of the public.  A schedule of activities and costs involved in a typical Order is published within order application packs. These has been compiled by reference to DoE Circular 3/1993 (which lists example activities for which costs may be recharged) and the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management’s Good Practice Guide in relation to Procedures for Public Path Orders. The schedule of typical charges assumes an order at a central location and without protracted negotiations following pre-order consultation or order making.

31.    Major variables in the final cost will typically be:

               Cost of advertisement – dependent on publication used and size of Notice.

               The stage that the Public Path Order (PPO) reaches.  The applicant or the Council can withdraw the application at any stages prior to the Orders confirmation.

 

              Location of the diversion site affecting officer time and travel costs in undertaking visits

               The extent of negotiation or other input required of the Vale of Glamorgan Council following commencement of the application.

               The type of order.

 

32.    Based on actual costs to be incurred, it is therefore proposed that the Schedule of Costs of Orders, exclusive of practical works, reflects the following amounts:

               Typical Order Cost:            £3400 (previously £2500)

               Maximum Order Cost:        £3750 (previously £2500)

               Additional PROW involved:  + £300 per additional ROW (previously £300)

 

33.    The primary reason for the scale of increase is higher advertising costs.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

34.    The proposals seek to raise income from users of services which require resources to deliver, in a fair and balanced way, whilst maintaining viable competitive services and attracting visitors and tourists as appropriate. Access to the sites in question remains free of charge.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

35.    Charges seek to ensure financial sustainability of sites and promote local employment through tourism.  All sites are engaged in delivery of environmental educational/conservation.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

36.    So far as Public Rights of Way are concerned, compliance with the primary legislation, secondary legislation and guidance as mentioned therein is required.

Crime and Disorder Implications

37.    Appropriate charges allow the Council to provide staff at sites which reduces crime and disorder.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

38.    Concessionary rates are identified.

Corporate/Service Objectives

39.    The operation of the countryside sites contributes to the corporate priority to encourage the development of a diversified and sustainable community and to work in partnership with others to provide country, environmental and economic regeneration.

Policy Framework and Budget

40.    This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

41.    Ward members for all sites have been consulted. Cll.r Drysdale has responded and  advised that he feels Porthkerry Country Park charges seem reasonable.  Cllr. Kelley-Owen has responded to say charges are realistic given current operating costs. 

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

42.    Economy and Environment

Background Papers

None

 

Contact Officer

Bob Guy, Operational Manager, Countryside & Economic Projects.

 

Officers Consulted

Principal Accountant

Committee Reports, Legal Services

Country Parks Manager

Principle Heritage Coast Ranger

Public Rights of Way Officer.

 

Responsible Officer:

Rob Thomas, Director of Development Services

 

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