Council bosses say they want to start what will inevitably be a long and difficult conversation about its big idea to try radically change the way people travel into and around Leicester.
The Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) is a proposal to tax parking spaces owned by companies and other organisations in the city and use the money raised to try to improve Leicester’s public transport.
The Labour-led council is clear about its aims – to reduce congestion and pollution on the city’s traffic choked roads by getting people out of their cars and onto buses.
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby says Leicester may follow in the footsteps of neighbouring Nottingham – the only UK city to so far set up a WPL.
He said the council is likely to spend the next two years consulting on the controversial plan.
But how would it actually work?
While the council admits it has yet to turn its rough ambitions into crafted proposals LeicestershireLive looks at some of the key questions the idea has triggered?
1) Who would pay it?
The council has been open about loosely modelling its scheme on the one established in Nottingham in 2012 where any organisation with 11 or more parking spaces is liable to pay the levy.
But there could be exceptions for key workers in – the police, NHS staff and perhaps teachers – as there are in Nottingham.
What seems certain is that if a WPL is implemented the city council itself – and therefore every tax-payer – would have to pay in.
Sir Peter said he believed the council could not reasonably exempt itself while requiring others to pay.
Companies may absorb the cost but could, if they wish, pass on the expense to their workers.
The mayor says he’s prepared for a ‘robust’ response from trade unions representing their members who may be hit in the pocket.
We do know the charge won’t apply to existing public car parks, whether they are council-owned or in private hands, or shops’ customer parking spaces.
2) How much would it cost?
The key question underpinning the whole debate.
The city council doesn’t actually know yet – it says it’s early days with its proposal.
It has cited Nottingham’s charge of £415 per parking space per year but the mayor told LeicestershireLive ‘it could be more and it could be less’ so watch this space.
Officials at Leicester City Council have also yet to do a detailed study to show exactly how many parking spaces there are in the city.
However the best estimate is that Leicester’s levy would generate between £4 million and £7 million annually.
3) What would that pay for?
Again this still sits in the ‘to be established’ file but the ambition is to get Leicester a beefed-up bus service with a modern fleet of electric ultra-low emission vehicles intended to offer a genuine and viable alternative to private car use.
The debate as to whether that’s even possible will continue long after it’s attempted but the current principle is to restore bus services previously serving residential estates in the city which have been scrapped because privately-owned bus companies decided they were not economically viable.
As well as expanding the geographical reach of the current bus network the council wants to use the added revenue to introduce services outside peak hours – particularly in the evenings where the current service is patchy.
The main and long-held complaint that can be overheard at most Leicester bus-stop queues is how expensive the tickets are.
WPL cash could be used to subsidise routes.
4) Can it pay for a Leicester tram?
Key fact – Nottingham has raised £64 million from its WPL since 2012
That has helped pay for its tram, a revamp of its rail station and electric buses.
But the city mayor, while not dousing the idea in freezing cold water, has tipped tepid H2O over the suggestion.
He said: “It’s often been looked at but all the studies of Leicester over a long period of time have shown it would be enormously expensive and very difficult to fit into our crowded streets.”
Don’t hold your breath then.
5) Which area would be covered by the levy?
The council might have pencil sketched some possible WPL boundaries on the map but it is a long way off reaching for the ink.
So far the most frequently suggested zone, says Sir Peter, is within the inner ring road.
That however leaves some of the organisations with most parking spaces, DMU and the University of Leicester outside the covered area.
The council says it wants to hold wide spread conversations before setting out the zone.
6) Why are we going to spend two years talking about it?
Not least because it’s a fiendishly complex proposal which will need the final go-ahead from the Department of Transport and there’s a multitude of (we hate this word) stakeholders to talk to.
It took Nottingham five years to get its WPL over the line.
Sir Peter thinks thinks Leicester can do it faster but there is unlikely to be a formal consultation until 2021.
7) Won’t businesses just up and off?
The big fear is that companies will decide they don’t want to take the financial hit the WPL will bring and move out of the city.
That was certainly what many in Nottingham predicted would happen before it came into force.
Former Nottingham City Council leader Jon Collins, a key architect of the WPL there, says there is no evidence any company has quit the city because of it though our sister website NottinghamshireLive has certainly reported on small businesses who said the WPL was a factor in their decision to close down.
8) Will Leicester’s bus companies go for it?
The city’s bus companies – First, Arriva, Centrebus – are all private firms and naturally look to their bottom line when making decisions about what routes and timetables to run.
Sir Peter has made no secret of his desire to have greater council control of public transport – like the mayor of London – and talked openly and enthusiastically about bringing them back under council control.
But eight years after he was first elected , the Government seems no closer to allowing greater devolved powers of pubic transport here.
The answer, suggests Sir Peter, is campaigning to get a new Government elected. That would be a Labour government….Next question.
9) Has the decision to implement this already been made?
Absolutely not says Sir Peter.
He says he is convinced of the benefits it could bring, environmentally and for those residents currently not well served by buses.
However he insists he is open to persuasion and anticipates there will be ‘severe reservations expressed in the coming months.”
He says he is prepared to drop the idea depending on what the consultation serves up.
10) What do the political opposition say about WPL?
Non-Labour elected politicians are a bit thin on the ground in the city.
Lib Dem councillor Nigel Porter is a speck of yellow on the red Labour council benches.
He previously said Sir Peter was ‘spouting rubbish’ about a WPL while he made the case for more free city centre parking.
There are no Tories on the council. Their only city councillor Ross Grant lost his seat in the May council election but before he departed he had this to say of the the WPL plan.
He said: “This sounds like a very appealing idea at election time where the mayor says he will tax businesses and give everyone cheap public transport but I am very sceptical.
“Will he not just end up handing over huge sums of money to private bus companies who he cannot compel to do anything.
“This could end up with companies deciding Leicester is not where they want to base themselves because of the additional cost.”
Leicester’s Greens don’t hold council seat but came close to getting one in May.
They back a work place parking levy and even publicly suggested it before Labour.
While Sir Peter’s election manifesto committed to consulting on a WPL the Greens promised to do it if elected.
11) So what next?
The mayor will take part in a special Twitter Q&A on Tuesday September 10, for an hour from 6pm, with deputy city mayor Cllr Adam Clarke.
They’ll be answering questions as far as they are able at this early stage.
Then in coming months the council be talking to business groups and relevant organisations and interest groups to get their views on a WPL.
The views of residents will be sought in an open consultation ‘in due course.’
A draft local transport plan will be drawn up to identify future transport improvements for the city and potential funding sources, including a WPL.