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SLAPPED WITH FINE: Pensioner is furious with a “cruel” firm

SLAPPED WITH FINE: Pensioner is furious with a “cruel” firm

Cherry Tree allowed blue badge holders to park for free for up to three hours in disabled bays after the handover, Image: Google Maps

A Wirral pensioner is furious with a “cruel” firm who slapped her with a fine even though she had no idea of the car park’s new rules.

Ann Healey, 78, from Wallasey in Wirral, was a passenger in a car driven by her husband, Allan Healey, 73, but was fined £60 for exceeding the maximum free parking stay at Liscard’s Cherry Tree Shopping Centre car park.

In August, Smart Parking took over the running of the shopping centre’s car park following a period of free parking due to the pandemic.

The company has generated huge controversy for the way it has handed out fines to elderly and disabled people.

Ms Healey is not disabled herself and does not have a blue badge, but on September 21, the day she exceeded the maximum free stay, Ms Healey was in “extreme back and leg pain” and desperately needed to get medication following a visit to Arrowe Park Hospital.

But Smart Parking defended its decision. A spokesperson said: “In the case of the Healey’s they parked for over 32 minutes without paying for parking so correctly received a charge.”

What really angered Ms Healey was that she did not know how long her husband was able to stay in the car park without paying and could not see any information about this.

There was also a parking attendant on site and the couple were hoping to speak to them should they need to clarify whether payment was needed.

But Smart Parking’s system means that an attendant does not need to put a ticket on someone’s car to fine them, they can simply be caught on camera and sent a fine through the post.

Explaining her ordeal, Ms Healey said: “My husband was not aware of the new parking system, he saw the attendant who was occupied in an argument with another customer and waited for me to return from Boots Chemist about 20 minutes later.

“It took me a while to get into the car and settle myself comfortably, we exited the car park at 15.46pm [32 minutes after we arrived].”

She added: “We had no idea of what the maximum free time is and it isn’t stated anywhere at the car park.”

On the new parking system, Ms Healey added: “It is cruel. This is offending everybody. It is not a fair policy at all, it’s not fair to anyone.”

A few weeks later, she got what she described as “very intimidating communication containing a £60 fine for a 30 minute visit and pick-up of a temporarily disabled pensioner”.

Ms Healey appealed the fine, at first unsuccessfully, but she was able to get the fine transferred to her husband by pointing out that he was driving rather than her.

This week, Ms Healey’s husband Allan has been given the fine, which he will appeal.

But for Ms Healey, the bigger point was what situations like hers were doing to the shopping centre.

At a time when the high street is already struggling, the parking fiasco risked driving people away from Liscard.

She added: “I’ve spoken with many shoppers and management staff of the centre and all agree that the parking system has been mishandled.

“No-one is happy with the inhuman and alien ANPR [Automatic Number Plate Recognition] camera system and a ruthless appeals procedure whose integrity is questionable.”

Referring to a campaign organised by the Facebook group Smart Parking Cherry Tree Centre, Ms Healey continued: “The boycott of Smart Parking is working, the shopping centre car parks are empty. No-one wants faceless cameras. No-one wants the hassle of an unfair and intimidating appeal process.

“No-one wants money making moguls to win against ordinary law-abiding citizens of any age who enjoy shopping and socialising over a coffee in the Cherry Tree Centre. Smart Parking is depriving them of that pleasure. Smart Parking is not so smart.”

A spokesperson for Smart Parking said: “Smart Parking recently signed a lease to operate Cherry Tree car park and as such, it is our aim to manage the facility in a way that stops parking abuse and ensures that genuine motorists and users of the centre can always find a place to park.

“As Cherry Tree car park is private land, before anyone decides to park there, they should check the terms and conditions of use which are clearly advertised throughout the site.”

On the specific case of the Wallasey couple, the spokesperson added: “One of the key conditions of use at the site is that unless you are a blue badge holder, you must pay for parking. In the case of the Healey’s they parked for over 32 minutes without paying for parking so correctly received a charge.

“Smart Parking are members of the British Parking Association (BPA) and strictly follow its guidelines. In addition we operate a BPA audited appeals process.

“The Healey’s did appeal, but as they did not provide evidence that they were blue badge holders it was rejected. The Healey’s can make a further appeal to the independent appeals service POPLA and we will abide by any decision it makes.”

 

Words: George Morgan, Local Democracy Reporter


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