Cash parking machines could be re-introduced in Barnet after a special committee was set up to assess the success of Pay-by-Phone.
The local authority sensationally announced this morning it has formed a five-person team made up of two Labour councillors and three Conservatives to look at the possibility of bringing back cash machines across the borough.
Barnet switched to the controversial cashless Pay-by-Phone system in 2010 under the previous parking portfolio holder Brian Coleman.
But the council could be on the verge of an embarrassing u-turn after being forced to look again at its decision following two years of uproar among drivers since the removal of the borough’s cash machines.
Critics complain the new system is difficult to use and discriminates against elderly and disabled drivers who may not have mobile phones or credit cards.
A cross-party panel has now been charged with the task of assessing the popularity and success of Pay-by-Phone, before giving their recommendations to Barnet Council’s cabinet committee before the May elections.
Conservative Councillor Brian Gordon, who is heading the task panel, said: “There is a feeling across all parties this should be looked at again.
“The question is whether or not we should be re-introducing cash machines. We feel it is appropriate to canvass as much opinion as we can to make a solid recommendation.”
Councillor Gordon also denied the announcement was a Tory ploy to gain favour in the build-up to May’s local elections.
He added: “As far as I’m concerned the election has nothing to do with it. It was a cross-party decision and the time is right. This isn’t about political ideology or policy - it’s about getting a broad view on parking. Things have been changed before and they can be changed again.”
Barnet Council spent £81,000 removing every one of the borough’s cash parking machines, before spending a further £200,000 on introducing pay-by-card facilities.
The latest announcement will come as welcome news to thousands of drivers who have been left frustrated by the council’s refusal to reassess its decision in recent years.
The opposition Labour group leader Alison Moore said: “The cashless parking system has been disastrous for many people and it clearly doesn’t suit everyone.
“It’s important to give drivers choices. We can’t say - this is the only way you can pay for parking in Barnet.
“The Conservatives have dragged their heels in getting this started but I am very pleased it’s finally on the timetable - they don’t have the best reputation in terms of listening to people.”
The task group’s first meeting at Hendon Town Hall last night was not publicised but Councillor Gordon says he invites members of the public to view the next two meetings on Tuesday and Thursday evening of next week.
Labour’s parking spokesman Alan Schneiderman, one of the party’s representatives on the task panel, said: “The current system has been inconvenient for so many people and has had a significant impact on trade, deterring those who want to pop into the high street to pick up a coffee or a newspaper.
“Everybody has got cash - it’s the most convenient way for a lot of people to go and pay, especially those who are just passing through and might not live in the borough.
“It’s about giving people choice and this helps cover all bases, making it as easy as possible for people to pay for their parking. It’s not a fait accomplis, but I think it should be reintroduced.”
Conservative councillors Hugh Rayner and Joan Scannell, as well as Labour’s Ross Houston, make up the rest of the five-person panel.
Councillor Gordon added: “There isn’t a lot of time. I can’t say whether it will result in changes and to excite people would be wrong.
“But personnel and opinions change over time and the council has to do the right thing.”