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Councillors Trade Verbal Blows Over McDonald's & Station Road Car Park Saga

27th June 2020 | By Peter Chapman

There was a very spikey exchange during the full meeting of Mid Sussex District Council this week, when cabinet member Stephen Hillier and Burgess Hill councillor Robert Eggleston clashed over the council's handling of McDonald's and the Station Road car park saga.

Cllr Samantha Smith (Dunstall Ward) brought up the topic of McDonald's by asking the cabinet member to advise how the McDonald's operation had affected Station Road Car Park. She raised how the roundabout outside the car park needed to be kept free from congestion to aid emergency services vehicles, Cllr Hillier (Haywards Heath - Bentswood) began to reel off all what MSDC had been doing since McDonald's reopened to help aid the situation.

'At the time when the district council offered the franchisee a short-term licence for the car park - on very reasonable rates it must be said - the car park was actually seeing very low acitvity, particularly in relation to the season ticket holders from nearby employees due to covid of course. A significant part of our motivation to agree a license was to assist the police and highways in minimising the impact that this business's operation causes around the site.

"After just one week, McDonald's informed us they no longer wished to continue with the arrangement and I was acually pleased to note that yesterday, the chief executive has made it clear in writing to the franchisee that they need to take responsibility for the impact of their business on the community.

"I can also disclose that the leader wrote directly to the Chief Executive of McDonald's UK, highlighting the problem and requesting that a solution be put in place, also alongside a request t the Burgess Hill branch be one of the first to accept walk-in trade, which would obviously, hopefully reduce the impact of the drive-thru. My understanding is that the Chief Executive has written back, implying they're confident that they no longer need to use the Station Road car park and again, clearly local members may or may not believe that this is the case.

"Let us be clear, this business is popular with a significant section of the community and they are also a valued employer in the town and the district, but it is not this council's fault that they haven't tackled the design issues for example with the drive-thru, which means the only way to queue is out on to the highway.

"Some 50% of the spaces in that car park (Station Road) are already allocated to season ticket holders and that car park achieves up to 80% occupancy at peak times, so not as some of the local social media chat would imply, is it underused and therefore freely available to a private enterprise."

Naturally, Cllr Eggleston took exception to this
as it's been well-documented what he's been doing in his capacity as ward councillor and leader of the Town Council to help mitigate the predictable traffic nightmare that was to occur when McDonald's first reopened as a 'drive-thu only' operation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I think it's important that we have some transparency about the McDonald's car park issue, because Burgess Hill Town Council - in advance of a request to Mid Sussex District Council - met with McDonald's twice on Zoom and with the police and made a proposal to Mid Sussex District Council to allow McDonald's to use the car park, and initially Mid Sussex District Council refused that request - we went ahead anyway because it was quite clearly in the interests of the town that pressure was relieved on that road and I would like the Deputy Leader to confirm that is the case.

"Secondly, my understanding is that the license that was offered to McDonald's was at the rate of £1,700 per week and as I've notified senior officers today of the financials of this franchise, I'd like the District Council or the Deputy Leader to confirm that figure.

"What the District Council was asking the franchise to pay was more than the weekly operating profit of that franchise in 2018, pre-covid 19. If that £1,700 per week is correct, is it not the case, that in this instance, that the District Council was profiteering at the expense of a family business?"

Cllr Stephen Hillier responded:

"In relation to the preparations being made and worked upon between the Town Council and McDonald's, my understanding is that the request came to Mid Sussex District Council officers at a very very very late stage indeed and they turned it around as quickly as they could.

"The fact that you as a District Councillor are happily sitting here advising that you worked with the operator and 'go ahead anyway' and use a tax-payers' asset in the terms of Mid Sussex District car park is a little surprising.

"In relation to the figure you give for the rental per week, I'm afraid I'm not privy to that, but again there is a concern that you may be representing the interests of the franchisee rather than the district.

"I understand that they have a business decision to make about their profitability, their profits versus the cost, but we are District Councillors and we need to consider what the implication is for the profitability at our car park and what the income that was suggested or may come from the franchisee, how that matches up with the income that we should be earning for our tax-payers and to cover the cost of our car parking operation, which I suspect is a very differt figure. So I understand what you are saying, but I think I have given you my answer and my opinion."

Question time with cabinet members doesn't allow for the person raising the question to have a second bite, so Cllr Hillier was not challenged on his response.

It was interesting to note that he first stated that McDonald's were offered a license at very reasonable rates, but then later he admitted he didn't know what the fee put to McDonald's from MSDC actually was!

This situation will rumble on, but it's interesting to note that at Lunchtime on Saturday, only 2 vehicles were parked in Station Road car park. Well short of the 80% capacity at 'peak times'.

Spread the word, Councillors are at odds over the McDonald's and Station Road car park saga.

Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
What's do you think of this latest dispute? Do you think MSDC doing enough to help relieve the pressure? If the proposed £1,700 per week figure is accurate, is that a reasonable charge?

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