Saturday, 5 July 2014

Pickles-Powered Political Parking Prejudgement

As usual, I try and do everything in my power to avoid posting about Eric Pickles and Parking. But I can't. It is just not possible.

If you want someone who brings sense and analysis, don't read this post, spend your time with Pedestrian Liberation who sets out the issues in two posts - here and here - which are well researched and reasoned. This post is me letting of a bit of steam.

Recently the Department for Transport consulted (for some reason only known by them) on local authority approaches to parking. 

The consultation wanted to cover;
  • how to limit the use of CCTV for on–street parking enforcement in some or all circumstances
  • whether local communities and businesses should be given the right to require authorities to review aspects of their parking strategies including the level of parking charges, whether parking should be free for a time, and whether double yellow lines are appropriate and necessary at particular locations
  • whether there should be a statutory requirement for local authorities to allow a ‘grace period’ where a driver has over-stayed in a paid for parking place for a short period before issuing a parking ticket
  • updating parking enforcement guidance to emphasise a less heavy-handed approach to parking enforcement and that parking charges and fines should not be used to subsidise other areas of local government spending

If you re-read those 4 points, the first, third and fourth come from the assumption that local authorities are somehow bunches of madmen, foaming at the mouths in anticipation of sticking more parking tickets on the poor vulnerable not really illegal motorist. The second point essentially gives "rights" to people to "call in" parking arrangements that they disagree with.

Even as the outcome of the consultation was getting ready to be released, Eric Pickles and Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin were ready to condemn over zealous councils and their spy cars which are hiding on every street corner. For photos of these covert, sneaky and camouflaged horrors, click here.

The outcome of the consultation was published in the form of the government's response to the 481 individuals, 324 organisations and 21 others. The summary of the responses to the various questions asked are as follows, with the government responses following and then my take;

Question 1: Do you consider local authority parking enforcement is being applied fairly and reasonably in your area?
Individuals were 50-50 in agreement whereas organisations were 81-19 in agreement. I wonder if organisations were more thoughtful in their response - individuals must have been sad gits like me (yes I did respond) with clearly more polarised views (it seems fair where I live!). Of course, the DfT spin is that most organisations were local authorities!

Government Response
The Government will amend guidance to make it clear that motorists parking at an out-of-order meter should not be issued a penalty charge where there are no 
alternative ways to pay.

My Take
So the government agrees that everything about the entire set up is totally fair and reasonable other than people getting a ticket when parked otherwise properly in a location with a knackered parking machine? So, are things as bad as made out in the press then?

Question 2: The Government intends to abolish the use of CCTV cameras for parking enforcement. Do you have any views or comments on this proposal?
Well 94% of individuals and 94% of organisation did have comments. Basically nobody supported a ban other than motoring groups and business groups who each had mixed views. Great, looks like CCTV is here to stay. Oh, wait.

Government Response
The government intends to press on and take action to see a ban on the use of CCTV cameras to enforce parking contraventions in the vast majority of cases. 

The consultation showed that many respondents argued for some CCTV use to be retained where there are clear safety or serious congestion issues such as outside schools, in bus lanes and on red routes. 

The Government therefore intends to see a ban on the use of CCTV cameras with some limited exceptions. At present there are over 40 different parking contraventions, and in future the government intends that CCTV cameras will be banned in all but the following limited circumstances: 
  • When stopped in restricted areas outside a school; 
  • When stopped (where prohibited) on a red route; 
  • Where parked (where prohibited) in a bus lane; 
  • Where stopped on a restricted bus stop or stand; 
The Government will seek to legislate through the Deregulation Bill currently before Parliament.

My Take
Right, so you have basically ignored the views expressed and you are doing what you want anyway. So, local authorities will to employ armies of parking attendants. But they won't. They are skint and an efficient method of enforcement is being completely hamstrung. I do have sympathy with the more general concern about the explosion of CCTV generally, but for traffic and parking enforcement, it is used for that specific purpose.

Round my way at least, there are complaints in the local press that the CCTV car drives down quiet residential streets and "catches" lines of people parked on the footway and it is unfair. What about people trying to walk along that footway? It seems that press is only even given to the poor beleaguered (and illegally parked) driver.

Question 3: Do you think the traffic adjudicators should have wider powers to allow appeals?
61% of individuals and 36% of organisations thought yes.

Government Position
The Government intends to legislate at the earliest opportunity to see a ban on the use of CCTV cameras to enforce parking contraventions in the vast majority of cases. If successful, adjudicators can take account of this when determining appeals. 

The Government proposes to widen the powers of parking adjudicators. This could include, for example, measures to protect drivers where adjudicators have repeatedly identified a problem at a specific location (such as inadequate signage) and parking tickets have repeatedly been issued. In such circumstances, potential measures could include the ability for an Adjudicator to direct an authority to stop issuing tickets or direct the authority to change the signage, or indeed both.

My Take
Well, CCTV gets bashed again - clearly issuing a ticket via CCTV will be banned in most places and if issued against you when parked illegally elsewhere, that is your get out. Actually, I like the idea of the Adjudicator being able direct a local authority to sort out a site which is not signed properly, although local authorities do tend to act on problem sites fairly quickly because it is a reputational issue.

Question 4: Do you agree that guidance should be updated to make clear in what circumstances adjudicators may award costs? If so, what should those circumstances be?
This was supported by 84% of individuals and 66% of organisations. The adjudicators did not agree, they said:

"they considered the current cost provisions to be adequate. They pointed out that the costs involved in appealing are low, and that the act of appealing is becoming easier with online appeals. They added that costs are not awarded punitively but to cover costs and expenses reasonably incurred. They suggest that changing the costs provisions would complicate the process and not encourage proportionality."

Government Position
Government promotes transparency and will change the guidance on costs, when the statutory guidance is revised, to make it clearer what provisions there are available to the public.

My Take
Sod what the people who adjudicate said, the views of people actually doing the job don't carry any weight.

Question 5: Do you think motorists who lose an appeal at a parking tribunal should be offered a 25% discount for prompt payment? 
55% of individuals and 25% of organisations agreed,

Government Position
The Department will look to work in partnership with a local authority to assess the impacts of introducing a 25% discount to motorists who lose an appeal at tribunal level on a trial basis, as recommended by the Transport Select Committee. 

My Take
The organisations felt that this discount would lead to more spurious challenges (and believe me, many people do challenge out of some kind of spite rather than being in the right). If you get a ticket and pay up quickly, one can get a prompt payment discount. My view is rather than messing about with discounts, set the charge and that is it. If you don't pay up after 28 days, it goes up and so on.

Question 6: Do you think local residents and firms should be able to require councils to review yellow lines, parking provision, charges etc in their area? If so, what should the reviews cover and what should be the threshold for triggering a review?
71% of individuals and 48% of organisations agreed. I suspect that the local authorities were less in favour because essentially, residents and indeed businesses can already lobby for parking reviews with their local parking authority.

Government Position
The Government wants to encourage councils to review their use of parking restrictions such as yellow lines, and to consider introducing more short stay parking bays. Local authority parking strategies should benefit the efficient operation of the local community, and the Government (under the Department for Communities and Local Government) will change the rules so that local residents and firms will be able to make their council review parking, including the provision of parking, parking charges and the use of yellow lines.

My Take
Local authorities suggested that they already review their areas and of course people can raise issues now. They are also concerned about the trigger or arrangements being such as to allow relatively small lobbying groups to get their issue reviewed and without some sort of gap, they would suffer multiple applications.

As I stated, people can ask for reviews and whether they get taken forward is a matter for the local authority. Imposing some kind of trigger is precisely red tape that is not needed and it is perverse that this bunch of anti-red-tapers want to bring more in. I also understand the need for businesses to have some say, but they are not the electorate and politicians should remember this.

Question 7: Do you think that authorities should be required by regulation to allow a grace period at the end of paid for parking?
Opinion was split on this one for both individuals (52% agreed) and organisations (47% agreed).

Government Position
The Government intends to introduce a mandatory 10 minute free period at the end of paid-for on-street parking either through amendments to statutory guidance or regulations.

My Take
This is total nonsense. If you put your money in the meter or the pay-and-display machine (especially the pay-and-display machine) you know how much time you have or when your ticket runs out. If you are late and you get caught, you get a fine. OK, have 10 more minutes and all people will do is mentally add those minutes and some people will still be late.

Local authorities have a few minutes flexibility now because of the clear arguments which ensure where people have a slightly different time on their watch to that of the ticket machine and they haven't got the resources to argue. If 10 minutes mandatory time is added, there will be the same flexibility at the end to avoid the same argument. This is pure politics with no substance whatsoever.

Question 8: Do you think that a grace period should be offered more widely for example a grace period for overstaying in free parking bays, at the start of pay and display parking and paid for parking bays, and in areas where there are parking restrictions (such as loading restrictions, or single yellow lines?
55% of individuals disagreed, as did 72% of organisations. There was concern about people parking on restrictions in an anti-social way or in a dangerous position because changes would be confusing.

Government Position
To ensure a consistent approach for motorists the Government intends to introduce a 10 minute mandatory grace period at the end of free on-street parking. This will mean that whether motorists pay for their parking, or it is available free for a time, they can have confidence that they will not be penalised for returning a few minutes late. DCLG will also lead on work to extend the same grace period to local authority off-street parking.

My Take
As nonsensical as the previous question for the same reasons. If a single yellow line does come into force until 9am, enforcement would always follow a little later to avoid the "what time is it" argument. If a restriction or bay is so important in terms of time, then local authorities might even change those times to remove any impact of this 10 minutes.

Question 9: If allowed, how long do you think the grace period should be?

"A wide range of views were offered varying between 0-30 minutes."

Government Position
The Government recognises that many local authorities already operate a 5 minute observation period. The Government considers that 10 minutes would be an appropriate period of grace.

My Take
And there you have it, the government knows that there is grace built into local authority procedures. Grace is needed not only for the "what time is it" argument, but also for things like loading. You can load for as long as it is necessary on a yellow line (without blips) and this includes going into a premises to get paperwork signed for example - grace is needed to check that a person is loading and not having a cup of tea!

Question 10. Do you think the Government should be considering any further measures to tackle genuinely anti social parking or driving? If so, what?
"An extremely wide range of ideas were offered. Some common themes included tougher enforcement against offenders, a uniform approach to pavement parking and tackling problems of unregistered vehicles."

Government Position
The Government is not proposing any further measures at this stage but may reconsider the responses to this question when the measures set out above have been implemented.

My Take
OK, the Government have gotten bored now. The consultation outcome doesn't even give a summary of what people said here - presumably much was made about things that Pickles doesn't want to talk about such as footway parking and  making the rules about parking in cycle lanes absolutely clear. It is interesting to read some of the organisation responses which are not hysterical, they are measured and thoughtful.

In its response to the consultation, The British Parking Association said;

"In almost every area referred to in the Consultation there is the risk of serious unintended consequences. Our members have said to us that the Government should be careful what they wish for. Whilst the comments made in our Consultation response are clear, we do urge the Government to undertake a full impact assessment of any proposal to ensure that what they seek to achieve does not have unintended consequences."

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain said;

"The central assumption seems to be that the vitality of urban areas is inextricably tied to cheaper car access, and the ability to park for free at locations most convenient to the individual. Yet there is no evidence of any connection between the availability of extensive and cheap (or even free) on-street parking, and high street vitality. If there is any relationship, it is often entirely masked by other (much more important) variables. There is no clear relationship between footfall (what matters) and the cost and availability of parking."

The Information Commissioner's Office was concerned about the use of CCTV and the privacy of law abiding people. I don't agree with a fair bit expressed in the response, but I provide it for some balance;

"The Commissioner takes the view that the use of CCTV can interfere with the private life of individuals most of who are going about their day to day business and engage no law enforcement concerns. Any use of CCTV needs to be well justified in order to comply with the law. The Commissioner supports the view that CCTV should not be used unless 

it is proportionate to the problem that it is designed to address."

London Councils represents the London Boroughs and it is no surprise that they side with the boroughs and the further measures they would like to see in response to Question 10 is quite interesting;

  • The introduction of nationwide persistent evader legislation.
  • Greater powers to tackle of vehicles not registered at DVLA. 
  • A simplification of the traffic order making process, and the associated costs and required advertisement. 
  • Further consideration of enabling authorities to trace foreign registered vehicles in the EU through their equivalent ‘DVLA’. This was abandoned by the coalition government (SPARKS). 
  • The closing of loopholes allowing motorists to ‘play’ the system and make multiple witness statements and statutory declarations. 
  • A greater consideration on the effects for authority enforcement and the problem of cloned vehicles, with the removal of the requirement to display a tax disc. 
  • The expansion of 20 mph zones .

Finally, Living Streets provided an extensive response to Question 10, one paragraph sums it up for me;

"Poorly parked vehicles can force pedestrians into the road. They can inhibit the independence of many vulnerable people and be particularly dangerous for older people, for families with pushchairs and for those with visual or mobility impairments. Pavement parking is repeatedly highlighted as a major concern for our supporters and the general public. Research undertaken by Living Streets in 2011 revealed that 11% of respondents commented that pavements free of parked cars would make the biggest positive difference to their everyday life and cars parked on the pavement was the biggest issue (41%) when asked about clutter in the streets."

The job of the Department for Transport is:

"We work with our agencies and partners to support the transport network that helps the UK’s businesses and gets people and goods travelling around the country. We plan and invest in transport infrastructure to keep the UK on the move."

The job of the Department for Communities & Local Government is:

"... to create great places to live and work, and to give more power to local people to shape what happens in their area."

From what I can see from this consultation, the Government (i.e. Pickles) wanted to crack down on the local authorities which dare to enforce parking rules efficiently and so pander to the minority (20% according to the British Parking Association's response) of drivers who park so badly or overstay their parking time that they get a parking ticket.

It is a classic case of the squeaking wheel getting the grease with a problem which is not a problem being looked at for political posturing. The majority of drivers and pedestrians, cyclists and bus users will come off worse if all of these changes are made.

The DfT's job should have been to publish the facts of the consultation outcome separately and leave it to the politicians to provide a separate response. But, when you read a consultation document, it reads as a mini political manifesto and where Eric Pickles is concerned, it probably is. Why his department is involved is beyond me (other than to bash local authorities which seems the norm these days).


  1. Hope you're feeling better for that. ;-)

    Being from God's Own County I've had the pleasure of knowing of Mr. Pickles and listening to his pronouncements on the local news since he was a Bradford councillor. Given that a problem shared is supposedly a problem halved one would have hoped his influence would have withered with national exposure. Sadly not. Back then I always wondered what exactly it was that his constituents saw in him. I concluded it was simply the blue rosette he wore. Nowts changed.

    (BTW hope you liked the turnout for the TdF up here in the wild [and stunningly beautiful] north. Now, if only we had a cycling culture in the UK...)

  2. Yes, the TdF was wonderful wasn't it! Shame we will never see old rubber knickers on a bike any time soon!