Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Duncan Cameron Esq (WTC 03)




About me

  A year ago my partner and I got a large rescue dog. This meant that not only did we walk more regularly (1½ hours a day) but we became a "wide" group. As a couple we thought nothing of having to go single file past obstructions but now, with a large undisciplined dog, we began to notice the nuisance and danger these caused. Lack of Council action led me to join the Pedestrians Association and I am now their Local Contact for Denbighshire. I feel I represent an ordinary citizen wishing to walk in a completely ordinary way. Others might have pushchairs or disabled buggies and similarly feel restricted by these obstructions. But even without any special circumstances the acceptance of pavement obstructions demonstrates society's values: pedestrians' needs and rights are valued less than motorists' and others'.

About my town

  St Asaph is a small (population about 3,500) unremarkable town in North Wales. I estimate that 40 per cent of businesses in town obstruct the pavement with advertising signs (a total of 15 signs), perhaps 10 per cent of cars pavement park and 5 per cent of properties have vegetation significantly overgrowing the pavement.

Deterrents to walking

  Dog mess, litter, cycling, anti-social behaviour and speeding cars are, of course, also a deterrent to walking but can be difficult/expensive to prevent/prosecute. Obstructions are easy and cheap to prevent/prosecute in comparison as offenders are property owners who can be easily traced and are able to pay costs.


  1.  The Law:

    (a)  The Council has the power "to require the removal of anything deposited on a highway so as to constitute a nuisance" (Highways Act, 1980, Section 149).

    (b)  The Council has the power "to require that free passage along the highway is not wilfully obstructed in any way (Highways Act, 1980, Section 137).

    (c)  The Council has a duty "to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of the highway (Highways Act, 1980, Section 130).

    (d)  The Council has the power "to require that vehicles are not driven on footways and verges" (Highways Act, 1835, Section 72; Road Traffic Act, 1988, Section 191).

    (e)  Police are required not to show "favour or affection" towards some and "malice or ill-will" towards others (Police Act, 1964, Section 18 and Second Schedule). [ie prosecuting a pedestrian for obstructing vehicles by illegally leaving their possessions on the road but not prosecuting vehicle owners for illegally leaving their possessions (cars) on the footway.]

  Note: The term "highway" includes both the carriageway (road) and the footway (pavement).

  2.  The curb: "to curb" means to limit or to place a boundary; a curb should be a boundary dividing the highway into a carriageway and a footway. Pavement parking contravenes this fundamental distinction.


  Pavement parking.

    (a)  Should be prosecuted according to 1(a) to (e) above.

    (b)  If pedestrians placed a chair on the carriageway it would be removed immediately, even though it would obstruct a smaller proportion of the road than when a car parks on the pavement. Cars could slow down and take care to avoid the chair, as pedestrians have to with parked cars. The Highways Act applies equally to the road and the footway. Pedestrians are being discriminated against [1(e) above].

    (c)  Contravenes the most basic division of the highway, defined by the curb.

    (d)  Encourages speeding traffic by giving it more room.

    (e)  Infringes the rights of pedestrians to their use of public property.

    (f)  Due to lack of prosecution it has become socially acceptable by drivers.

    (g)  The disabled and those with children suffer the most.

    (h)  Most unacceptable in residential areas: many people stop parking on their private parking spaces, often turning them into garden, only to then park on the pavement routinely.

    (i)  Who is liable for injury/damage caused if authorities have been notified? Does car insurance always cover the driver's liability here? Are Councils covered by insurance if they are proven to have failed to fulfil their legal obligations?

    (j)  Enforcement would not require a change in the law, would reduce speeding and increase walking as per Government policy, would decrease damage to pavements, and the consequent injuries, and to underlying pipes and cables.

    (k)  Problems with prosecuting as an obstruction can be avoided if police ask who parked the car: this would result in the admission of an offence [1(d) above].

    (l)  If car owners are concerned about damage from speeding cars there are legal alternatives to pavement parking: inform police about speeding or the Council for traffic calming or altering the carriageway width.

  Advertising signs.

    (a)  Should be prosecuted according to 1 (a), (b), (c), (e).

    (b)  If these signs were placed on the carriageway they would be removed immediately, even though they obstruct a smaller proportion than when on the pavement. Cars could slow down and take care to avoid the signs, as pedestrians have to. The Highways Act applies equally to the road and the footway. Pedestrians are being discriminated against [1 (e) above].

    (c)  Infringes the rights of pedestrians to their use of public property.

    (d)  Presents a real danger whatever their size (as is recognised by motorists).

    (e)  Due to lack of prosecution it has become socially acceptable by businesses.

    (f)  The disabled and those with children suffer the most.

    (g)  Signs may represent a health hazard indoors as dogs regularly urinate on them.

    (h)  Enforcement would encourage walking as per Government policy.

    (i)  Businesses have many legal alternative ways to advertise.

  Overhanging vegetation.

    (a)  Should be prosecuted according to 1 (a), (b), (c).

    (b)  There seems to be no question that this problem is unacceptable, the only problem being a lack of actual enforcement (see below).


  Police and pavement parking:

    (a)  They informed me on the phone: "It's illegal and we take action".

    (b)  Community policeman spent two hours over several meetings with me discussing the level of reasonable enforcement.

    (c)  Community policeman agreed to visit persistent offenders in residential areas to inform them of the offence and request compliance with the law. Also agreed to have produced official police notices to place on cars. Prosecution would occur if offenders persisted.

    (d)  Result: short-term improvement in spring 2000 but no response to two letters detailing offenders in September and November. No sign of notices being issued.

  Council and advertising signs:

    (a)  Informed Council in March 2000 about a sign at the Barrow Arms obstructing 50 per cent of a four foot wide pavement: they said others had complained in previous years. Reply: they would write to the offender. In April I informed them of all 15 signs in the town.

    (b)  Informed Council in early May that the Barrow Arms sign was still there. Reply: they would write to the offender again. Repeated in late June and August. On 8 December I phoned the police about this sign.

    (c)  I have continually asked the Council for details of their policy and procedures in dealing with these signs and also the question of liability for injury/damage. They have refused to say more than that every case is different and that they use their judgement as to what "constitutes a real danger or major obstruction risk to highway users" (in contrast to the law in 1 above). I have asked specifically if they base their judgement on "percentage pavement obstructed" or "minimum width unobstructed" etc, but no reply. Nor will they say in what cases would they prosecute: how many letters have they written to the Barrow Arms?

    (d)  Replies from the Council include:

      —  "Businesses benefit the local community". The suggestion is then that this should excuse them breaking the law for their own profit even though they can advertise in many legal ways.

      —  "In some cases it is difficult to determine the highway/property interface". They have not replied to my question as to how common this problem is.

      —  "Previous case law has shown that a Local Authority does not have Carte Blanche rights to remove signs". Cardiff Council seems to have done exactly this, combined with a licensing system.

    (e)  The Denbighshire Council Website, "Key Strategic Objectives" says "We are committed to improving people's awareness of our role and function and we are committed to consultation and open communication so as to strengthen local democracy". I have seen no such commitment in my experience.

    (f)  Flintshire Council replied, concerning all types of pavement obstructions, "This is ultimately an issue for the police as they have the powers of enforcement". This is misleading advice at best.

    (g)  I have not yet approached Councillors about these issues.

  Council and overhanging vegetation:

    (a)  In March 2000 I informed the Council of several instances and they replied they would write to offenders. After many reminders by myself about 50 per cent of offenders have cut these back. Others have not.

    (b)  The Council does not follow up these offences to check for compliance.

    (c)  The Council have outlined their policy and procedure: to write themselves, then to get their legal department to write and then to prosecute, but they have clearly not followed this procedure.


  Allowing pavement parking and advertising sign obstructions encourages drivers and businesses to take the law into their own hands. Once people start doing this regularly, however reasonable it may be to begin with, it soon gets out of hand and becomes unreasonable. Zero tolerance, perhaps with well-defined exceptions to zero-tolerance, seems the only sustainable way forward (eg licensing of advertising signs).

  Zero tolerance of obstructions should not be seen as perfectionist: theft of £5 from a millionaire is still theft and would be prosecuted—here we have, effectively, theft of public property by private individuals and it should be viewed in the same way.

  Enforcement of sign obstruction should follow the same procedure as overhanging vegetation: Council letter, Solicitor's letter, prosecution (with a defined time scale). In both cases Councils could remove the obstruction and charge the offender for costs.

  Could private companies enforce pavement parking law, and speeding, along the lines of clamping?

  Could Local Councils authorise members of the public to carry out trimming of obstructing vegetation in their street/area?

  Could Neighbourhood Watch groups monitor and report pavement parking and signs, and perhaps be authorised by the Council to cut back vegetation?

  As a national policy could Community policemen routinely issue pavement parking warning notices, noting registration numbers in case they re-offend?

  Could schools be issued with notices warning of fines for cycling on the pavement? (I have seen a disabled buggy swerve off the pavement on to the "wrong side" of the road, against on-coming traffic, to avoid on-coming cyclists on the pavement).

  Councils erect dog mess warnings everywhere: why not the same for pavement parking and cycling?

  Dog mess: Could the law require dog walkers to carry faeces-removal equipment?

  CCTV and litter/dog mess/cycling/anti-social behaviour/speeding: the only long-term solution will depend on being able to get good enough evidence of these offences to provide a genuine deterrent. While towns full of CCTVs together with centralised databases worry many, and would be complex and expensive to run, a decentralised Big Brother would both protect privacy and allow good law enforcement. In 5-10 years many people will have computers and cheap, remote, digital cameras may be commonplace. If individuals were encouraged to place a camera pointed at their car and/or their pavement, then this allows the information to be captured. Public buildings could all have internal cameras also (schools especially). These could download to secure websites. Local systems could then manage this information. Neighbourhood Watch schemes might co-ordinate a number of streets, sending requests for evidence to householders when asked to do so by the police, or householders could send evidence to the Neighbourhood Watch. Community Councils could co-ordinate at the next higher level together with local businesses in non-residential areas, perhaps forwarding images of children to Parent/School groups for identification, for example. No one organisation would have access to all the information, only the whole system. The police, of course, could get a court order to require disclosure from anyone in serious cases, such as recent child murders, etc.

December 2000

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