FREE-TO-USE staff car parks which reduced rising tension between NHS workers and residents surrounding Barnsley Hospital have been axed - leading a councillor to issue an urgent call for action to end the simmering stand-off.
Healthcare staff were told at the end of March the government would cover their parking fees for ‘going above and beyond every day’ as they worked round the clock to tackle Covid-19.
But now the government’s moved to bring back parking charges across the country after they were dropped for a four-month period during the height of the pandemic.
Coun Phil Lofts, who represents the Old Town ward in which Barnsley Hospital sits, has spoken out against the changes which he says will cause a surge in on-street parking in the area - a long-discussed topic which has led to angry clashes between workers and residents.
“I have been campaigning to put an end to on-street parking for years now but it is a complicated issue,” he told the Chronicle.
“On the one hand I have hospital workers coming to me who are fed up with having to pay to park at their place of work, but on the other hand I have angry residents who have had enough of their roads being blocked by cars parking outside their homes.
“The issue really is that the hospital’s estates department won’t come to a conclusion to help NHS staff to park at the hospital.”
Coun Lofts revealed that Barnsley Council has been in discussion with the department to reach a solution to the problem, but so far nothing has been agreed, while plans to create a park and ride-style facility at nearby Capitol Park, Dodworth, have been put on the back-burner due to the pandemic.
“This issue has been going on for more than a decade now,” Coun Lofts added. “We are aware that Barnsley Hospital is in the wrong place for additional parking but we need help to be able to solve the problem.
“We have applauded our NHS workers thought the pandemic but they are now being let down by being forced to pay for their parking while they do 12-hour shifts.
“We want a permanent solution to this issue because it’s not financially viable for the council to spend thousands of pounds on traffic regulations each year.
“We have added double yellow lines and employed traffic wardens to patrol residential streets around the hospital.
“It’s not that we want to make life harder for NHS workers, but some streets have become so busy that emergency vehicles can’t get past which is an issue in itself.
“We want our hospital staff to be safe, but we also need to come up with a solution to help them to get to work safely, especially when they are starting work in the early hours of the morning or late at night.”
Nurses have complained in the past that fed-up residents - who claim access to their homes have been blocked by inconsiderate parking - resorted to damaging vehicles and even put bins on the road’s edge to prevent cars from being left there.
The council has worked with Barnsley Central MP, Dan Jarvis, to create an ‘active travel’ programme which encourages hospital workers to commute by walking or cycling to reduce traffic.
Dan, who called on the government to reinstate free staff parking, said: “Throughout the coronavirus crisis, our NHS workers have been on the frontline of the fight against the virus.
“It was right for the government to suspend car parking charges for hard-working staff at the start of the pandemic, but this should now be continued as we continue to overcome the virus.
“I have long campaigned on the important issue of parking around Barnsley Hospital and I am working closely with Barnsley Council to develop a sustainable solution to parking in the area that supports local residents and hospital staff, tackles congestion and improves air quality for our local community.
“Part of the solution is through building a public transport system that’s fit for the 21st century and enabling more people to walk, cycle and run to work wherever possible.”
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