A row over free parking in Redcar and Cleveland has been met with a “rude” and “childish” response by Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, according to a leading councillor.

Redcar and Cleveland Council wrote to Ben Houchen and the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TCVA) asking for funds to keep two hours of free parking in eight local car parks. The matter was brought to the council following a 1,500-signature petition organised by Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, Sir Simon Clarke, requesting the council keep the car parks free.

The Labour minority council said it did not have the money to keep the free parking now previous Covid recovery funding from the TCVA had ended. Labour, Lib Dem and Independent councillors voted to seek funds to continue the free parking from the TVCA and Tees Valley Mayor.

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But a response to the cabinet member for highways and transport Carl Quartermain’s letter from Mr Houchen sparked a row after he branded the council’s request “appalling”.

Mr Houchen’s letter read: “Let me be crystal clear, as you seem to not understand the portfolio you are in charge of, there are COUNCIL Car Parks, and this is a (short-sighted) COUNCIL decision to re-introduce car parking charges. These are all COUNCIL-owned car parks.

“As you will be aware, the Council took the decision to reintroduce car parking charges following the local election in May. The reason I explain this in such basic terms is that you seem to be attempting to gaslight residents. It is a COUNCIL DECISION to set charges, a COUNCIL DECISION to collect the money from those charges and a COUNCIL DECISION on how to spend the money that you are raising by penalising motorists, visitors and your own local businesses.”

The Mayor’s reply continued: “Your administration wanted to be in control of the decision made regarding the services provided by the Council and the associated budgets. It is dishonest to mislead the public that there is anything other than a decision made by you. Your attempts to conflate this COUNCIL decision with the use of Covid Emergency Funding as an excuse is appalling.

“You have made a short-sighted and politically motivated decision that is anti-car, anti-business and anti-local hubs and worse, you are intent on not taking responsibility for your own decision”.

Coun Quartermain, responding on Twitter, said: “Disappointed by the rude, politically motivated and over the top reply from the TV mayor. The contrast in our letter exchange couldn’t be more stark.
“It is a petulant and childish reply. It’s in his gift, given he receives ALL the funding from the Department of Transport to dish out to the councils. £310m”.

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Mr Quartermain stated that, since devolution, the council no longer received transport funding directly from the Department of Transport, which now went directly to TVCA. He added that requesting further funding from the TVCA “is therefore not unusual given this fact and we certainly did not warrant the Mayor’s reply”.

In addition, Mr Quartermain stated that the Highways and Transport Department at RCBC is underfunded by the DofT and therefore needed to borrow an additional £7m in prudential borrowing in order to plug the gaps to carry out its work.

In response to Coun Quartermain’s Tweet, Mr Houchen said: “I make no apologies for pointing out political games. My organisation used emergency Covid funding to support the free parking on a temporary basis.

“The council own their car parks and the decision as to what they charge is solely with them. We have not provided any council in the Tees Valley with additional funding on top of the Covid money and whilst I would like to see the continuation of the scheme it is not a decision for me to make.

“I would not classify a letter clarifying the truth to be rude and if the council are not up to making decisions about car parking, I have offered to take over their car parks to deliver better value for money to local businesses and local people.”