West Berkshire Council reverses time limit on free parking for vaccination volunteers
WEST Berkshire Council has changed its decision to limit a free parking offer for vaccination hub volunteers.
The reversal was announced following a report by the Newbury Weekly News which revealed that the council’s initial refusal to grant parking concessions was potentially threatening the coronavirus booster jab roll-out.
Zohib Sheikh, in charge of the vaccination team at the Kennet Shopping centre’s new larger hub, had earlier revealed his volunteer staff had been having to stump up £9.20 each per shift to park in the council car park at the town centre shopping mall.
He said: “Having to pay to give your labour free is putting some people off and it’s seriously holding us back from helping during a pandemic.
“We’ve tried and tried to get some concession from the council... but they’ve flat out refused.”
The council, when contacted by the NWN, said a temporary solution had been devised.
Meanwhile Newbury MP Laura Farris had written to council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Newbury Speen) referencing the NWN report and warning that the stance was deterring potential volunteers “when we need them the most”.
She urged Mrs Doherty to allow “some form of exemption... for volunteers so they do not face parking charges for their contribution to protecting our community.”
The council said it had decided to waive parking fees for volunteers at its new Newbury station car park – but only over the Christmas period.
That has now changed to become open-ended.
The council has now said in a new statement: “Free parking for volunteers was announced two weeks ago and is currently offered on an ongoing basis.
“We will keep this under review based on the booster programme, as well as the available capacity in Newbury station car park whilst staff continue to work from home.
“We have written to Laura Farris MP to confirm that free parking for volunteers was already in place in support of the national effort to roll out the boosters as quickly as possible.”
The council has also suggested those volunteers working on behalf of charities could claim expenses for parking.
* WEST Berkshire Council leader Lynne Doherty tried to brush off the furore sparked by the initial Newbury Weekly News story by dismissing it as “inaccurate reporting”.
At a recent public meeting of the council’s executive committee Ian Macro (Lib Dem, Theale) asked: “Given their vital contribution to our community, will the council introduce measures to allow those who volunteer at the vaccination centre to use the Kennet Centre car park free of charge, in order to facilitate their vital work?”
Mrs Doherty replied: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to dispel some of the inaccurate reporting that’s been circulated by the local press.”
So the NWN asked Mrs Doherty to highlight any inaccuracies in the story of which she complained.
Mrs Doherty replied the story was inaccurate as it had included a statement that she had received her vaccination booster at the Kennet Shopping centre hub.
In fact, she said, she had received her booster at a nearby Boots Pharmacy.