Report by Tom McCann
Despite a commitment for Hastings to be carbon neutral by 2030 and approving a tough climate crisis motion in 2019 Hastings Borough Councillors rejected a motion last week that some thought might encourage greater use of electric cars.
At the full council meeting members voted against reducing parking charges for drivers of electric vehicles. The decision was branded a ‘massive contradiction’.
The motion was proposed by Conservative Councillor Paul Foster: “…as an incentive to those who travel to Hastings or St Leonards on a frequent basis and would like to minimise their parking costs and do their bit for climate change.”
Given the issue being discussed Councillor Mike Turner’s contribution to the debate was to launch a tirade against meat eaters: “The biggest cause of global warming and emissions is meat eating and world farming. It’s no use tinkering around the edges, talking about ‘let’s have more electric cars,’ while you’re stuffing meat down your throat.
“Is it your palate or the planet you care about?” Mr Turner asked rhetorically before urging the Council to talk about the ‘real problem’ and to ‘reduce meat eating and world farming,’ although he did not go on to elaborate on how the local council could do this.
The proposal on reducing parking charges was backed by the other Conservatives members of the council but was roundly rejected by the ruling Labour group as well as by the sole representative of the Greens.
Councillor Peter Chowney said: “I support the principle of it, but I’m voting against it because I think we’re doing something better.”
He told the meeting the council was installing electric charge points across the town, but recognised those already installed were not seeing a great deal of usage.
“The reason I think this is not the right incentive,” continued Mr Chowney, “is at the moment we don’t charge for electricity at all. I would suggest that is a much better incentive to get people to use electric cars and to come to Hastings; that if they have the electric car already they can get free electricity—though whether we can continue to do that I don’t know. I think that’s a better incentive than just knocking a bit off the parking price, both to visitors and to people in Hastings.”
Leader of the Conservative group Councillor Andy Patmore said: “I think it’s good to open the debate, I think that’s really positive. I also think it would be a really unique thing for the town going forward in that if we were the electric car friendly town and people can come here and park their electric cars, we will draw people in… I think we need to embrace every carbon reducing motion that comes before the council.”
Despite being the Green Party’s only representative on the Council, Councillor Julia Hilton opposed the plan: “I think this is a bit topsy-turvy, because if people can afford an electric car frankly they can afford the parking.
“We have some of the lowest car ownership in East Sussex,” continued Councillor Hilton, “so if anything is going to be subsidised I think it should be alternative transport—our busses are pretty expensive.”
For Councillor Rob Cooke it was about tipping the balance in doing everything possible to sway people to go electric: “Certainly electric cars aren’t cheap—a Nissan Leaf is £28,000, so if you can offer an incentive to someone who is perhaps going to buy that, to say we’ll lower their car parking bill, that could be the difference whether they can afford one or not.
“Interestingly,” continued Councillor Cooke, “I think it was the Greens who said ‘Think globally, act locally.’ I think this is what this motion tries to do.”
Councillor Paul Foster who proposed the motion ended the debate, saying “I really don’t understand why people are saying they’re not going to support it. It’s probably political, but there you go.”
After the meeting, the Conservative groups said it was surprised their proposal had failed saying they were: “surprised and disappointed at the decision of Labour to refuse the proposal to offer reduced parking charges in the borough car parks to owners of electric vehicles.”
The Conservatives also raised in the statement their confusion at Labour’s rejection of the proposal due to electric vehicle owners being able to afford car parking fees: “Labour would not support the motion because if people can afford an electric car they can afford to pay for parking, but it’s okay to give the same wealthy electric car owners free charging? It’s a massive contradiction.”
A Conservative party spokesman said: “This is a ludicrous position taken by the Labour group of councillors. Everybody benefits from the use of electric vehicles; it is a net gain for everyone if people are encouraged to drive environmentally friendly cars. Other seaside towns have already introduced this scheme. You have to ask the question why they really refused this—perhaps it is because the installation of charging points is majority grant funded—but a loss of revenue, albeit modest, from car parking charges is not acceptable to them.”