QUESTIONS have been raised about the legality and the process of introducing parking charges at Ross Community Hospital.

The Wye Valley NHS Trust introduced parking charges at community hospitals in Leominster, Bromyard and Ross-on-Wye on Monday.

But Ross Town Councillors expressed their opposition to the charges at Monday night's town council meeting.

Cllr Chris Bartrum said he thought it was a "disgrace" that the chief executive of the Wye Valley NHS Trust could not "be bothered to" turn up at the town council meeting.

He said: "If he is not going to turn up, the town council needs to go to their next meeting, every person from the town, and flood the meeting and make it clear that it is not acceptable and we are not going to put up with it. We should start a petition."

The cost of parking starts at £1 per hour, rising to £2.50 for four hours and £5 for 24 hours parking.

Mary Osborne, from The Friends of Ross Hospital, told the meeting that she was worried their fundraising would be affected by the car parking charges.

The Friends hold fundraising events such as coffee mornings in the hospital and she said she believes less people will go as they will have to pay fees to park.

During the last six years alone, the Friends have given £234,000 to the hospital which is on average, £39,000 a year.

Cllr Caroline Bennett said: "I felt there should have been some consultation, a reason for introducing the charges. I feel we need concrete reasons.

"Was there a full feasibility study? Have they worked out how much it will cost to collect the money?"

Cllr Jenny Hyde said they should question the legality of the charges, as the land the hospital is on belongs to Ross-on-Wye.

She said: "I think it might be worth looking at the legality of the land."

Councillors agreed that they should invite the chief executive, Glen Burley, to attend a meeting with the town council at his earliest convenience; that there should be a mass attendance of the next meeting of the Wye Valley Trust board; that the town council should start a petition; and to invite local parishes to get involved.

A spokesman for Wye Valley NHS Trust said that when informing the town council that he could not attend the meeting, WVT’s chief executive Glen Burley sent a detailed letter which outlined the rationale for the trust’s decision, clarified the trust’s legal right to introduce charges at the car parks it owns and detailed that the decision had not been taken lightly, but had made reluctantly.

The spokesman added: "With regard to consultation: There is no requirement for an NHS trust to consult regarding its parking arrangements and the decision brings these car parks into line with other car parks in the area.

"The trust took the difficult decision to introduce parking charges after careful consideration, discussion and debate. The financial challenges that the trust faces are well documented and in that context it is untenable to continue to pay for the upkeep and provision of car parking without seeking a contribution from car users.

"The parking scheme has been fully costed and income generated through the scheme will be used to contribute to the provision of car parking and help the trust’s finances.

"The trust is at liberty to introduce the charges as it owns and manages the car parks – the contract to manage car parks at Hereford County Hospital are tied into the PFI contract."

In taking the decision has been made to introduce parking charges, the hourly rates are at a lower level compared to those at Hereford County Hospital and reflect parking charges in the county’s market towns.