Monday, March 27, 2006

New Garage

I really must start my next post with some letter other than an 'N' - it's reaching epidemic proportions. Anyway...

Something like 6 months ago I requested an application form from the District Council in Epping to put myself on the waiting list for a local Council garage. I received the form, filled in most of it, but got to a part where it asked me to name my preferred site. Unsure as to what to put down, I called the council.

I got through to a perfectly helpful (I'm guessing middle-aged) lady to whom I explained I was interested in the garages behind the church, but anything in Epping would be fine. She cheerfully clucked at me that the waiting list for those garages was "years long". (No particularly surprise to me, given the scarcity of garages in Southwell, Notts. where my parents and the Lotus live.) But nevertheless, she assured me if I wrote "behind the church" on my application, everything would be fine and dandy. So I did.

So 6 months on, imagine my surprise at finding this news item on the Council website:

Renting a garage in Epping Forest district

Do you want somewhere to park your car?

Well, yes actually! I thought I was on your list!

Council garages are available now at discounted rents in Buckhurst Hill, Epping, Loughton, Shelley (Ongar) and Waltham Abbey.

We own around 3,000 garages throughout the Epping Forest district. The normal rent is £12.50 per fortnight for council tenants, and £14.68 for other residents. Some garage blocks are in high demand and have waiting lists, others are less popular. These low demand garages are available now at a discount of 50% off the normal rent for the first year.

Is that so? Then why on God's green Earth has no one called me and asked me if I want one of them, since I'm on "the list"?? I was a little irritated by this, and sent a terse (admittedly) but fair email to the Housing Services division of the Council to that effect. Their reply?

Dear Mr Harvey,

When you completed your application form you stated you would like to be considered for a garage behind the Church, these garages are not owned by the Council so I put you on the waiting list to our nearest site, Chapel Road. As you are now willing to accept a garage not so close to your address, I would be able to offer you a garage on our Springfield 'C' site as we have a few vacancies there at the moment.

Woah woah woah...! So let me get this straight. Firstly, the garages I wanted to rent (the ones I dicussed on the telephone) don't even belong to the council? Instead they signed me up to a different list for some garages I didn't even know existed? And no one thought to mention that to me?? Secondly, now I stand accused of changing my mind, according to the Council representative concerned... what the...?

Well that really is rather irritating. The fact is I *never* said I was unwilling to accept any garage except for the ones across the street. In fact, I specifically remember stating exactly the opposite on the telephone! And since the form asked me to state a preference, I had no idea that in doing so I was completely excluding myself from being offered any other garages in Epping.

Naturally, I replied - politely - explaining how the misunderstanding came about and suggesting how they might rectify this so it doesn't happen in the future:

For the record (and by way of feedback - I appreciate there was clearly a misunderstanding here) from my perspective I was never aware I was only on the list for one garage site - when I spoke to council officials previously on the telephone (and in all dealings on this matter) I have always stated behind the church was ideal location, but not essential and was given the impression that was understood and I would be considered for any garages in Epping. Evidentally this was not the case, and had I not seen the news item on your website I would've been on the list for the Chapel Road site until doomsday while other Epping garages lay empty.

The confusion was exacerbated by the wording of the council form I filled out when applying, which gave me the impression I was stating a preference for a garage behind the church - not accidentally excluding myself from being offered any other options in the town. Might I suggest adding an extra option on the form - a checkbox allowing people to express an interest in other sites if offered? This would avoid such confusion in the future.

Thanks again for getting back to me so swiftly, and I look forward to taking on a garage.

The response to my suggestion? Deafening silence. Now, call me old fashioned, but I would expect at least a "thank you for your feedback and we'll bear it in mind" - even if it's an insincere load of old cobblers, it is still better than nothing. I didn't even get an acknowledgement. Rubbish! If a private company carried on like that they wouldn't have very happy customers.

Never mind. The good news is it looks like we have a garage again for the Fiat. The bad news is my lack of faith in civil servants is once again proven completely justified. *sigh*

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Plates

New historic British plates on the Fiat 500.The new number plates were fitted to the Fiat this morning and they look good. The front one takes a bit of getting used to as it is much larger than the Milanese plate that was on the car.

For reasons known only to himself, the first owner drilled holes through the front panel to fit the original plates. We're now stuck with that decision, unless we fill and respray the front panel or replace it entirely - neither of which are a particularly good idea at this moment in time.

Normally people hang British plates beneath the front bumper on UK registered Fiat 500s, so it doesn't look like the car is sporting a moustache. This is infinitely preferable in my opinion, but sadly not an option right now. One thing I can do is procure a motocycle plate for the front at some point. I don't think it's technically "legal" , but no one cares anyway and it will look a lot less imposing on such a tiny car.

We also had a bit of a dilemma as to how we might put holes through our new ironmongery - we expected them to come pre-drilled (since we left the originals with the shopkeeper) but to our dismay they weren't and the chap we bought them from wasn't sure where we could get them drilled.

I wasn't comfortable drilling the holes myself with my cheap Homebase power drill and free metal bit (of dubious quality). So I ended up taking a lump hammer and a 6" nail to the metalwork which is, as I suspected, actually a very effective and controlled way to put holes in thin sheet metal, even if it sounds a little hairy! Infinitely preferable to a drill slipping, or some similarly ugly mishap.

So there you go - fully street legal in British trim. Very nice. And for good measure we went for a nice long drive and got an "English breakfast" for lunch. Yum!

Friday, March 17, 2006

News Update

Not much has happened in the world of classic motoring over the last month. The weather has been dreadful, so the Lotus has been in the workshop getting a new starter motor, an MOT and a tune up in readiness for the summer.

The Fiat has been holed up in the garage with no number plates on it while we wait for the black and silver British plates to arrive. We're taking advantage of our remaining time with a garage to make sure everything is street legal. Still looking for another garage, but it's looking bleak I'm afraid. I may be reduced to a card in the Post Office. You never know!

I'm looking forward to driving the Lotus for the first time in ages next weekend (25th/26th March) and can't wait to see if all the mechanical tinkerings have made much difference.

And we pick up the new plates for the Fiat tomorrow morning, so I will fit them and take it out for a spin with British plates and tax disk for the first time! Hurrah!

More next week.