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18 Jan 2007 : Column 361WH—continued

Another matter of disagreement with the Committee relates to parking on pavements. Parking on pavements is a nuisance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, and as the report says, it is an annoyance, and beyond that can be dangerous for people who are visually handicapped or have mobility problems. Where it can be avoided, it should be. However, I can tell one moderately funny anecdote about it, and another about how stopping such parking would have been a very bad idea. I shall begin with the serious story. A group of people came to my advice bureau and said that a local traffic order had been enforced and they had had to park their cars on a bit of tarmac round the corner from where they were in High Blackley. Their cars had been vandalised two or three times. They had put them back outside their doors and the local parking attendants had come round—it is a residential area—and put tickets on them. They came to see me and the council responded reasonably. They were allowed to park outside their houses on the pavements again. I think that that is a better balance.
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Despite the disadvantages of pavement parking, it was better than people having their cars vandalised. That can only be determined locally.

When I was a councillor I went to a public house where the Labour party was having a meeting with the chair of the highways committee, Tony Burns, to talk about on-pavement parking. The local Labour party was up in arms about it and gave him a terrible time. After the meeting I came out of the pub, which had been mainly occupied by Labour party members—the rest of the pub was empty—and in front of it every car had its wheels on the pavement, because not to have done so would have blocked the road. It is a difficult issue. In principle, I am sympathetic to the Committee’s view; in practice I think that it is better determined locally.

My final point relates to what I think public service—and car parking regulations—should be about. The person I want to talk about will probably never read the report of the debate, but I was very grateful to him. Four or five years ago I was in the north bay in Scarborough, and stopped for a cup of tea at a little hut there. After about five minutes a parking attendant came up to me. There were no other cars parked there. It was a windy April day. He said, “Excuse me, sir, but you are parked illegally. There is a space over there; you probably did not see the sign.” It was visible, but I had not seen it. He asked me if I would mind moving my car, and I did. No nuisance was being caused by my car, but it was in the wrong place. That parking attendant’s attitude was to be commended. It was much better than the brutal nastiness of Control Plus in Manchester some time ago. The parking attendant has my thanks not just for the fine he saved me but for showing what public service should be about.

3.28 pm

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am a new member of the Transport Select Committee and I am disappointed not to have been on it earlier so that I could take part in the preparation of the report. I want to commend the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), on the report and to say how much I have enjoyed my first few weeks on the Committee. I congratulate the other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, who made some extremely pertinent points.

Paragraph 242 of the report states:

That is the best paragraph in the report.

The problem is that while we recognise what needs to be done, unfortunately in reality it is not being done. We have just had an excellent example from the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) of the fact that we can sit in meetings and talk about
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the ideal, but in terms of actually living where we live and parking where we want to park, the reality does not live up to the ideal.

The problem is that parking falls between too many departmental stools and, in Kettering, the parking situation illustrates that. Kettering is a small and fairly typical town in Northamptonshire in the middle of England and it has the same typical problems as most towns of that nature. There are all sorts of different Government agencies, local authorities and other bodies involved in enforcing parking. First, there is obviously the police. However, the police have given up enforcing parking in Kettering. The two basic reasons for that are that parking enforcement is not a target set by the Home Office and they do not have the money to do it.

Kettering has one traffic warden who works 16 hours a week. He is now largely paid for by the local borough council and if it did not do so there simply would not be a traffic warden. As an illustration that there has to be a practical approach to parking issues, instead of spending most of his time putting tickets on cars parked in the wrong place, on busy days—for example a Saturday morning—he quite rightly stands at the top of Gold street in Kettering, which is Kettering high street, and stops cars from travelling illegally down the pedestrianised area. He has to do that because of the red tape involved in trying to persuade the county council to put a barrier up to prevent cars from entering the pedestrianised area.

It may be different in areas that have unitary authorities, but in Northamptonshire, like in most of England, we have a borough council and a county council. Despite the fact that we both want to achieve the same objectives, it seems very difficult to introduce a sensible traffic management system.

My first point was that the police have given up, despite the fact it is their responsibility to enforce parking regulations until local parking is decriminalised.

Mrs. Maria Miller: I am interested to know why the borough council has not considered taking over that duty—what is standing in its way?

Mr. Hollobone: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The answer is that in Northamptonshire a process of decriminalisation is under way. There is a dispute between the local borough council, district councils and the county council about who should run that operation. In Kettering’s case, the borough council, of which I am a member, has taken the view that it would like to run the operation. That is largely because of the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley that the more locally these issues are dealt with, the better local residents’ requirements can be delivered. However, it looks as if we will have to have a county-wide parking enforcement scheme, although that has not yet been decided. The borough council has been unable to take over those powers because that issue is still under discussion.

I wish to make the same point as that of my hon. Friend about planning guidance by humbly suggesting to our distinguished Chairman of the Committee that that is an area we should consider for an inquiry as it is
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something that the public would want us to look at more closely. My hon. Friend is right to say, as is stated in the report, that planning guidance is a gap in the report—the Committee unfortunately did not have time to consider it. However, it is a very real issue. I was struck by old photographs from the 1940s and 1950s of roads, streets and avenues across the country in which there are lovely rows of houses and trees, and not a car in sight. If we returned to any of those roads, streets and avenues and took the same picture from the same point, the chances are that both sides of the road would be lined with parked cars.

There are places in Kettering where cars simply have to park on the pavement on both sides of the road because if they all parked in the road, the traffic would be unable to go down the middle. It is incredible that under the planning policy guidance of the Department for Communities and Local Government, local planning authorities are effectively forced to give permission for new housing estates where the road width is simply not adequate to cope with the demand for residential parking. We are creating real problems for ourselves in the future because car growth continues to increase and hundreds of thousands of new houses will be built in the next 10, 15 or 20 years under the Government’s growth area housing expansion plans.

Mrs. Miller: My hon. Friend raises the issue of parking on streets. Does he share my concern about the implications for road safety when there is such an increase in the number of cars parked on our residential streets? The implications for young children are particularly concerning.

Mr. Hollobone: My hon. Friend makes an extremely pertinent point as usual. She, like me, has young children and we are all too aware of explaining the dangers of crossing a road to them. However, when there are parked cars on either side of a road, the dangers are much greater. As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said, it is a real problem for disabled people when cars are not parked on the road but on the pavement, as the cars get in the way.

We need to sort out planning policy guidance to make it far more relevant and practical. The Government want to try to prevent the sprawl of housing expansion and are reducing the road width so that the new housing estates can be built in a small area. I understand why the Government are doing that and that the intentions are good, but the effect will be very bad for many decades to come.

I have mentioned the police, local authorities, the Department for Communities and Local Government. They are three stools between which parking policy is falling—another is the NHS. At Kettering general hospital there is outrage from the 3,200 staff at that magnificent facility because they are being forced to pay to park at their place of work. In many cases, they will have to pay more than £200 a year. That might not sound a huge amount, but for a low-paid ancillary worker or nurse that is a real dent in their take-home pay. The reason that the staff car parking scheme was introduced was not because the NHS trust wanted to introduce it, but, quite simply, because it would raise about £300,000 to go towards balancing the budget. That is because of the consistent under-funding of our
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local hospital—not an argument for this debate I admit, but a point I have made elsewhere. That under-funding has spilt over into charging staff to park at their place of work.

Another area is supermarkets. Last year, I had the privilege of sitting on the all-party parliamentary group for small shops. We published a report that said that unless appropriate action was taken, there would be no independent retailers on Britain’s high streets by 2015. Part of the reason why that will be the case within a decade is that supermarkets are building big car parks, where it is in effect free to park, while up and down Britain, shoppers who want to shop in high streets have to pay ever increasing car parking charges, either in the car park of the local shopping centre or in the local council-owned car parks. That is certainly true in Kettering, and I am sure that it is true elsewhere.

Another side effect of the lack of an overall parking policy involves verges. Like many other issues that should be fairly simple and straightforward, roadside verges are covered sometimes by the local district or borough council and sometimes by the local county council. There seems to be no rhyme or reason why one verge should come under the ownership of one type of council and another under the ownership of another. In Kettering, because of the narrow width of the roads and the lack of car parking spaces, more and more people are taking to parking on verges, and in wet weather the verges are becoming like mud baths. I am sure that all of us recognise that from our constituencies.

There is some doubt about whether parking on a pavement is illegal and the local authority certainly has no funds available to put in hard-standing to prevent the grass verges from being dug up. I am sure that all of us would say, “Well, cars shouldn’t really be parked on verges” and probably the law says that, but in Kettering, as in many other places, people simply have no option but to park on verges. Such parking can be selfish—for example, outside Wicksteed park in Kettering, which is a leading amusement park and leisure facility with a very strong reputation. Sometimes people do not want to pay the car parking fees in the park, so they park outside on the verges. That is illegal, but the law is simply not enforced by the police.

Another issue is residents parking. There is huge demand in Kettering for residents parking schemes. However, all this is being held up by the arguments between the local councils about the extension of decriminalisation.

Kettering borough council is keen for the Government to allow local authorities to appoint generic street wardens. The idea is that a warden patrols his or her local street, able to perform all the functions that local residents would think it was sensible for him or her to be able to perform, such as issuing car parking tickets, alerting the police if a misdemeanour is taking place, calling in the local highways authority to fill a hole in the road and calling in someone to fix a street light. At the moment, however, the legislation is such that there is no ability for a local council to appoint a generic warden.

Dr. Pugh: Much of what the hon. Gentleman describes is a very common pattern. For example, charges at hospitals and the practice of supermarkets
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expanding and providing free car parking are also characteristics of my constituency. Specifically on the latter point, what is the solution? Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that all supermarkets should charge or be obliged by law to charge for parking.

Mr. Hollobone: I thank the hon. Gentlemen for his very pertinent question. My personal view is that anyone, whether it be a supermarket, a local council or some other public body, who provides a car parking facility for, say, more than 20 members of the public ought to be able to contribute to—indeed, ought to be required to take part in—a local parking plan, so that everything can be co-ordinated.

The Government response to paragraph 242 of the Select Committee report, which I read out earlier, is:

Again, however, the reality is different. I can speak from my own experience in Northamptonshire. The Northamptonshire local transport plan simply does not address the practical difficulties of parking in and around a town centre such as Kettering. I think, for example, that Tesco’s supermarket, on the outside of the town, should be obliged to talk to the local authority and the local authority ought to be obliged to talk to representatives of the supermarket about the co-ordination of their car parks with the other car parks in the town. There needs to be some kind of partnership approach to achieve what paragraph 242 in the excellent Select Committee report sets out.

Before I finish speaking, I want to praise one of the local newspapers in Kettering—the Evening Telegraph —which has run a very effective campaign to prevent inconsiderate parking outside schools at peak time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) said, there are real issues about pedestrian safety around parked cars, and there has been a growing problem in Kettering. Understandably, parents are reluctant in many cases to allow their children to walk to school, so they drive them there, and of course they all drive at the same time, to get there just before the school opens. There has been a lot of inconsiderate parking. However, thanks to the publicity that the Evening Telegraph has given to the issue, I am pleased to say that in many cases there is now no longer a problem outside local schools, because parents are thinking, “Oh, we should set off five minutes earlier; I should park just around the corner.” The parking has been much more considerate.

I thank you, Mr. Benton, for the time that you have given me today. I commend the Select Committee on its report. In particular, I think that paragraph 242 sums it all up rather well.

3.46 pm

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): First, I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who would like to be here. He is doing something traditional, wild and Celtic for which he has grown a beard and goodness knows what else. I am moonlighting in a way, but hon. Members will know that it is not possible to come from Southport without having had a lot to do with parking in one way or another.

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The report confronting us is very important. It has been of immense public interest. As a Select Committee report, it has been very successful, because it has initiated serious dialogue with the media, the public and, of course, the Government. The Government response has been fairly positive, constructive and thoughtful. The issue of parking policy and enforcement clearly generates an enormous amount of strong feeling. It is also very important for road safety. The nearest I ever came to losing my life on the roads was when someone parked at a junction to rush into a betting shop to place a bet. I came out of said junction. When someone’s head is bleeding and their car is written off, they think quite hard about where people do and do not park, although possibly more at the time about their own survival.

It is impossible to do justice to the entire report and all the contributions in the debate, which have been most thoughtful, but I thought that I would speak specifically about the customer’s experience, if I can call it that. Most people understand broadly what parking enforcement is about. It is about rationing parking space. That was never needed in the past, but now we have hundreds and hundreds of extra cars and people accept that space in town must be rationed. It is about safe parking and it is about reducing nuisance—moving away the awkward car that is blocking someone’s driveway and so on.

There are, however, other wider objectives, possibly known only to councils. They worry about the economic effects of parking, the environmental goals of the parking system and maintaining traffic flow. In Manchester, they may even worry about issues such as liveability, although I am not quite certain what that is. The report highlights very well the limited evaluation of this important service done by councils and the Government. Both collect data and do some sort of evaluation, but it was pointed out forcefully in the report that they could not find a single example of an annual report from a parking authority. An annual report seems an excellent idea. It would include, according to the Select Committee, an account of the expenditure on the civil parking enforcement scheme, revenue collected, revenue outstanding, expenditure of surpluses, parking compliance statistics, the number of penalty charge notices issued, the number of informal representations received and so on. That information strikes me as being useful to evaluate the whole process, but, sadly, the parking departments in many local authorities are simply asked to get on with it, and the surplus is gratefully received.

The lack of clarity about objectives and the lack of clear strategy lead to tension and, sometimes, to pointless enforcement on days when it simply is not required. That misuse of staff time often leads to motorists feeling that they are being deliberately penalised or financially exploited. Citizens might not agree with a council’s strategy or use of surpluses, and that is a matter of genuine democratic debate, but often they do not even know that there is a strategy or set of objectives and so regard the people who enforce the parking regulations as an unpleasant force that makes their life awkward. In my constituency, the enforcers have been referred to not as being jack-booted, but as the Gestapo.

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