DOZENS of residents attended a meeting to discuss ongoing issues related to parking in the Fairfield area of Bury, last night.

The meeting was the latest in a series organised by residents following the introduction of a virtual carparking scheme for the area by Bury Council earlier this year.

Around 100 residents attended the meeting a Jericho Methodist Church in Rochdale Old Road for a question and answer session with representatives from Bury Council, Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust and Greater Manchester Police. 

The council's virtual parking scheme and permits, unadopted roads, lack of communication about policies and changes and problems caused by staff from Fairfield General Hospital parking on nearby streets were the top issues raised by attendees.

Residents continued to voice opposition to the virtual parking scheme and criticised its introduction and implementation.

Speaking ahead of tonight's meeting Julie Talbot, who helped organise the meeting said: "The virtual parking system was put upon us and everybody was up in arms.

"We held two meetings set up by Councillor Trevor Holt and we had hundreds at the first one and 300 at the second one.

"Now we have nearly but not quite resolved it and now we have been given a choice which we should have had in the first place.

"But the virtual scheme didn't work and it won't ever work."

However, speaking at the meeting representatives from the council reaffirmed the council's decision last month to now offer residents a choice of having a virtual or paper parking permit - after they were forced to relent to public pressure.

Residents reported still having problems with their permits not arriving as well as issues with communication with the council about the scheme and requesting paper permits.

It was also confirmed at the meeting that paper permits will be available next year.

Trevor Holt, Councillor for Bury East ward said: "Julie [Talbot] came along to the council meeting a couple of weeks ago and her and I talked, and she asked the question to the leader of the council answered by Councillor Kelly who came to the meeting at the school, will it still be the same position next year and yes it is. 

"You won't have to go through this again. There is a guarantee from the executive member Councillor Kelly that won't happen again."

One resident said: "From my point of view I think paper permits were the best thing whether you have internet or not, because if you get a car which is on the database system at its in the C Zone and you park it in another area of the C Zone, and the people who live in that street or avenue don't recognise that car it could be very embarrassing if you can't see a paper permit.

"They will be asking questions and they don't know whether you are on the system or not. So I think paper permits are the thing to do."

People were also concerned about the £2 charge levied on special occasions permits, after council tax rises last month.

One resident said: "Please bear in mind that we are now the highest council tax in Manchester.

"Everything is going up. My wage has gone up one per cent, a lot of people may not have had a pay rise, nurses, council workers.

"The rates here have gone up six per cent and now we are going on about parking fees. £2 for a parking permit so we can see our children. All I'm asking for is a bit of leeway." 

Another resident added: "This is a hospital problem, why don't they build a multi-story car park and then they wouldn't have this problem?"

Residents also questioned the Fairfield hospital's decision not to build more parking spaces on hospital property, and asked why the charge levied on people using the carpark was not reduced or made free.

Barry Waterhouse, Travel and Access Manager for Pennine Acute, said: "In terms of a multi-storey carpark the simple answer is that when we look at the funding and the options for any parking development or development we have to make we cannot take funds from healthcare budgets.

"Unfortunately because we have to cover the cost of operating the carparks we are not actually making an immense amount of money from those carparks."

Residents said that they felt like this problem was then being pushed on to them, which Mr Waterhouse denied.

He said: "At the moment in terms of the money that we earn and the potential for that, we would not be able to afford currently to build a multi-storey carpark for Fairfield and cover the capital costs and ongoing costs of doing that.

"However what we are looking at doing is where ever possible within the budget we have we try and expand our parking area when demand increases. 

"So at the moment we are discussing with the local authority but we are also look at creating an additional parking with 90 spaces.

One resident said: "For sick patients why don't you let them have the carparking free? I mean it is ridiculous charging a sick person who is on low income a fortune."

Mr Waterhouse said: "We do try to keep our charges as low possible, comparing them against surrounding trusts. And we do also offer a number of concessions for people who are coming to the hospital, patients and visitors.

"But we do have these costs of providing parking facilities that we are not able to pass on to our healthcare budget." 

Mr Waterhouse also said that an area behind the mortuary on the hospital's site was under consideration for development, adding: "With regard to free parking there are lots of discussions nationally.

"From the information that we have when we looked at free parking options and we have investigated in the past, and other trusts in Wales and in Scotland they do it.

"The issue that we have if we were to offer free parking and if we were to do it tomorrow is the key thing it does is generate additional car users that would take us further above our parking capacity that we have available on the site.

"We would be concerned that if we went free that would then be pushed out on to the community. So it generates additional problems."

One resident said that as the hospital increases the number of services and provisions available at the site increased demand will automatically be generated.

Adding that the problem is exacerbated by changes to bus services which now no longer go directly to the hospital, encouraging people to drive to the hospital.

She said: "Every time you alter something at the hospital that creates a need for more parking.

"And the buses now no longer come from Tottington so people have to change. Because of the change people may think twice and think this is a waste of time I'm going to get my car out."

Mr Waterhouse said: "What we try to do with all our developments is take in to account the addititonal impact it will have, and the patient activity that we have.

"We also try and work with the local authority and the transport operators where we can.

"The bus service at the moment, as far as I am aware doesn't change until April 8, and I believe the First bus is ending.

"But at the same time we are aware of that and as part of our commitment to it we are working with Transport For Greater Manchester and looking to meet with them.

"We have also been speaking to the bus operator that remains because we want to the access to that hospital site as well to try and reduce some of the issues.

"Unfortunately there are a number of little issues that have added up, plus some extra things that have made the situation here over the last few months worse.

"We are not going to solve them over night, but we want to be a good neighbour.

"We try put a lot of encouragement on our staff to not park off site. Unfortunately we can't force them to park on our hospital site, it's their choice.

"It's also their choice for how they wish to travel to the hospital. But we are putting a lot work in to try and make people more aware of the alternative and to encourage them not to travel by car."