A weekly editor has described a successful six day campaign to stop parking charges in four towns as “the shortest in my newspaper career.”
The Cambs Times launched its ‘Say No to Pay Parking’ bid after Fenland District Council, in North-East Cambridgeshire, revealed it was considering ending years of free parking as part of a round of budget savings and cuts.
Editor John Elworthy said he was “staggered” to find 17 councillors had replied to a council survey on cuts supporting the idea, despite “universal opposition”.
As a result, the Times threatened to ‘out’ the 17 in favour on last Friday’s front page, below, despite their names not being known at the time of going to print.
Said John: “With the possibility of pay parking coming in we felt it was time to act.
“We didn’t know their names but when they saw the front page – and our determination to find out their names – I think some got cold feet.”
Calls began to the authority’s 39 councillors and a Freedom of Information request was being prepared to the council to confirm the names of those in favour.
On Thursday, six days after the paper published the outline of its campaign, a private meeting of all councillors was told by council leader John Clark he didn’t feel his colleagues “had the appetite for it”.
The charges, which might have raised £1m a year, were widely condemned with many readers telling the paper they felt it could destroy already struggling market towns.
John added: “Within days councillors were telling me they were ‘feeling the heat’ and it quickly became clear councillors didn’t have the stomach for it.
“After the private meeting of councillors I got several calls – and some private messages – telling me of the decision and that the leader had climbed down.”
The FoI request over which councillors were in favour has still been submitted by the Times, with John concluding: “I’m sure our readers will be fascinated to know which of their councillors thought it a good idea in the first place.”