Archive | June, 2014

Parking enforcement ban – weak argument?

26 Jun

When the proposed ban on use of CCTV enforcement cameras was debated in parliament on 23 June 2014 Gordon Marsden MP quoted an earlier speaker who suggested that those with the weakest argument shout loudest ‘Argument weak here, shout like mad’. He  then noted that little time had been allowed for consultation or discussion and that the proposed changes had unusually been sqeeezed into  the Deregulation Bill at the third reading stage. He possibly also objected to the fact that three totally separate new clauses (marine accident investigation, private hire vehicle licensing and vehicle parking enforcement) were to be discussed at the same time making it hard to discuss any in a coherent way.

As I mentioned a few days ago the emotive language used by the Communities Secretary when announcing the changes bothered me. To quote: ‘CCTV spy cars can be seen lurking on every street raking in cash for greedy councils and breaking the rules that clearly state that fines should not be used to generate profit for town halls‘.

It also concerns me that the official press release that was released on Saturday 21 June, and which was widely reported in the papers pretty much verbatim, was not only riddled with emotive language, but also read as if the ban was already a done deal, with no question that it would not get through parliament without challenge. To quote: “In a victory for drivers and shoppers, the government will make it illegal to use closed circuit television (CCTV) ‘spy cars’ alone to enforce on-street parking ending the plague of parking tickets by post“. Why did they not say that ‘parliament will debate the issue on Monday and if they agree then it will be made illegal’.

And then there is the issue that the government’s response to the consultation was not make available at the time of the press release on the 21st and was indeed not published until the day of parliamentary debate itself. Don’t be confused that the document itself, ‘Response to consultation on local authority parking‘ claims on the website to have been published on the 21 June – the page history  at the bottom of the page clearly shows that it was only update on the 23rd, the day of the debate. It was certainly not there on the afternoon of the 21st because I looked and it said it was not yet available. Were people really working over the weekend to finish it, or was publication delayed tactically because the contents were not considered to be helpful? I hope not.

Regrettably then, journalists, MPs and the public were not able to refer to this fascinating document, which shows the devastating weakness of the government’s position, when reporting on the issue on Saturday or when debating it in parliament on Monday. By way of example it states that:

In response to the question “Do you consider local authority parking enforcement is being applied fairly and reasonably in your area?“:

  • 81% of the 324 organisations that responded said that enforcement was currently applied fairly
  • Just over half of the 421 individuals who responded through that enforcement was currently applied fairly and reasonably (211 thought it was, 210 thought it was unfair).

Hardly supportive of the government’s stance.

And then in response to the question “The Government intends to abolish the use of CCTV cameras for parking enforcement. Do you have any views or comments on this proposal?” They reported that;

  • bus operators opposed the proposed ban on the grounds that authorities should be able to enforce bus lane contraventions in the most efficient and cost effective way,
  • disabled groups opposed the ban and saw CCTV as a vital tool to help improve road safety, especially outside schools and at bus stops,
  • local authorities indicated that they opposed the ban and many considered that it was a necessary and efficient means of ensuring that road safety issues (e.g. around schools) and traffic congestion (e.g. bus lanes, access to hospitals) were adequately managed as part of the statutory network management duty,
  • schools opposed the ban, and some suggested it would leave schools powerless to rein in reckless parents. Head teachers warned of more disputes and greater safety hazards,
  • transport groups opposed the ban, noting that without which school ziz-zag markings would be difficult to enforce and that some areas can become “no go” areas for Civil Enforcement Officers because of the risk of verbal or physical abuse,
  • cycling organisations opposed the ban saying that was an important tool to reduce rogue parking,
  • businesses had mixed views, some wanting the ban, others feeling that it should be used as an effective and efficient tool in appropriate locations and time,
  • motoring organisations had ‘mixed views’. Some thought a blanket abolition would be a retrograde step.

I find it remarkably the views pedestrians and of ‘vulverable road users’, including the very young, very old and he infirm were not mentioned at all here.

Did this result in a change of hear by the government? Of course not. The considered government response was that: “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 case” only allowing them to be used for vehicles:

  • When stopped in restricted areas outside a school *1
  • 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; *2

*1 Do be aware that many zig-zags outside schools are not actually ‘restricted areas’. Paint on the road is not actually enough, as there also needs to be a pole and sign and also an expensive legal process to create what I believe they mean by a ‘restricted area’. This legal stage is often skipped because of the cost, and as such I don’t believe that it will be possible to use CCTV to enforce parking outside most of the schools in Ipswich where I live, and probably in many other places. I will do a post shortly on this subject.

*2 Do also notice the use of the word ‘restricted’ and ‘stopped’ in relation to bus stops. I believe that bus stops are only ‘restricted’ if they have a yellow box painted on the road and a pole and sign with details. Most bus are not restricted like this because of the cost of introducing it.

Places where CCTV can not be used would therefore include:

  • yellow lines, including those protecting bus routes (as distinct from bus lanes where they can be used)
  • dropped kerbs (where provided for pedestrians to cross the road)no loading areas
  • zig-zags outside many schools
  • by most bus stops
  • the approaches to signalised pedestrian crossings
  • any more? (do please note these in the comments section below and I will add them). The consultation notes that there were as many as 40 possible offences where CCTV enforcement would be banned.

Personally, I think this is all very encouraging for us campaigners in the longer term because clearly there is considerable support for effective control of rogue parking and the government is in a very weak position.

In the mean time we do of course need to continue to make our case robustly in public and keep up the pressure on MPs, many of whom are already well aware of the strength of opinion but clearly don’t yet have the courage to act on-mass. In the short term these changes will make parking worse, and we need to use this to build further support for change.

I can’t actually believe that the government really going to be foolish enough to go against the advice of so many organisations and individuals who oppose the changes when even the motoring organisations are not convinced of the change. Or will this get quietly ‘parked’ like their earlier proposal to increase the motorway speed limit to 80 mph?




Government determined to ban CCTV parking enforcement

21 Jun

So… the government intends to ban the use of CCTV enforcement of parking regulations (except in a small number of situations which will be determined by the Secretary for State for Transport). It also intends to introduce a number of other changes that will make it harder for councils to discourage pavement parking by including statutory ‘grace’ periods for people who park for too long in metered locations and who park illegally on yellow lines and also by introducing mandatory discounts for motorists who lose appeals for parking fines (yes ‘who lose’!).

It appears that both the Communities Secretary and the Transport Secretary have strong feelings on the subject and are comfortable speaking very emotively on the subject. To quote (my emphasis):

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary: “CCTV spy cars can be seen lurking on every street raking in cash for greedy councils and breaking the rules that clearly state that fines should not be used to generate profit for town halls. Over-zealous parking enforcement and unreasonable stealth fines by post undermine the high street, push up the cost of living and cost local authorities more in the long term”  21 June 2014

Patrick McLoughlin, Transport Secretary: “Unfair parking fines blight the use of our high streets and force shoppers out of towns. We want to rein back aggressive rules by banning the use octavo for parking enforcement, reviewing the use of yellow lines, and giving shoppers a ‘grace period’ to get back to their car after their ticket has run out before they get fined”  December 2013

OK, so we have spy, lurking, raking-in, cash, greedy, over-zealous, unreasonable, stealth and undermine in one press release and unfair, blight, force, aggressive in another balanced rather delightfully by the word grace for motorists who park illegally!

We also have a bunch of unproven assertions: Where is the evidence that this will ‘push up the cost of living’ or ‘cost local authorities more in the long term’. How on earth can the use of CCTV enforcement both be ‘raking in cash for greedy councils’ and also ‘cost local authorities more’?

And then there is weird statement: “Public confidence is strengthened in CCTV if it is used to tackle crime, not to raise money for council coffers” Eric Pickles October 2013.

Ignoring for now the emotive use of the word ‘coffers’, is he suggesting that people who are fined for illegal parking have not committed a ‘crime’. Really? The Oxford English Dictionary states that a crime is “an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law“. Is this another example of motoring law being put into a separate category of ‘not really very important laws which need not be adhered to if you can get away with it’.

A large number of organisations responded to the  consultation including:

  • Local Government Association
  • London Councils
  • British Parking Association
  • Disabled Motoring UK
  • Living Streets
  • Brake
  • Royal National Institute for the Blind  
  • Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACT)
  • Passenger Transport Executive Group  
  • Confederation of Passenger Transport UK

In their detailed response the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety noted that:

  • the consultation paper reads as though the Government has already made up its mind that local authorities are too severe when it comes to both the cost of permitted parking and the enforcement of penalties.
  • the extent to which this consultation represents real engagement likely to result in fruitful dialogue, is brought into doubt specifically by the fact that the paper makes it plain that certain, important decisions have already been taken, and that Government policy is, in key respects, not still under consideration. Paragraph 1.1, for example reports the pre-emptive freezing of parking penalty charge levels; while paragraph 4.1 states the Government’s intent to abolish the use of CCTV for parking enforcement
  • the consultation paper does not refer to, let alone make available, a robust evidence base for the changes in policy in question. Rather, these changes seem to be most strongly influenced by a record of anecdotal “concerns about over – zealous parking enforcement and high parking charges” that were expressed to the Transport Select Committee in 2013.
  • PACTS considers that the basis of the Government’s case for abolishing CCTV enforcement – that “it would more appropriate, fairer and straightforward for a parking warden to deal with contraventions” (paragraph 4.2) – is not justified by any evidence presented
  • CCTV is widely used in other areas of public realm, particularly in town centres, by the public and private sectors, to assist with a range of safety and security functions. To arbitrarily ban the use of CCTV for parking enforcement would not be justified or logical.
  • it is quite reasonable to review local parking arrangements periodically. However, we are not convinced that new powers or duties are required.
  • any grace periods should be a matter for local determination and dependent upon the specific circumstances, not for national prescription. Mandatory grace periods would no longer be grace periods.
  • PACTS urges the Government to make it simpler for local authorities to enforce against these matters, particularly parking on the footway which causes obstruction and road danger to pedestrians and mobility impaired people as well as costing local authorities substantial sums for footway repairs. The law is currently inadequate and l ocal authorities need effective legislation to tackle this problem.

The British Parking Association said:

  • there is no regulatory impact assessment on these proposals. There can be no doubt that there are very significant impacts on road users (particularly disabled people and children), on local authorities and on businesses, and the Association is very disappointed that no attempt has been made to quantify these impacts. In particular, there is no equality impact assessment.
  • the Consultation is derived from the Department for Communities and Local Government’s objective of revitalising the high street. This is a laudable objective and one which our local authority members have always taken very seriously, but traffic and parking management is also about tackling congestion, improving road safety and encouraging more sustainable forms of transport.
  • the Consultation appears to be based on concerns by a minority of road users who receive penalty charge notices. The Government should understand that a small minority of motorists receive penalty charge notices – most research indicates around 20%. The vast majority (the silent majority) benefit from the activities undertaken by local authorities to address the small minority who park in contravention of parking controls. That is not to say that that minority should not be treated fairly but we do believe that the Government should be proportionate in its response to this minority.
  • an underlying theme of the Consultation is that new technology somehow is a threat to motorists. On the contrary, new technology has significantly improved the offer to motorists, best illustrated by the use of mobile phone parking which enables motorists to be alerted to time expiry and remote topping up of time. In many other areas of Government activity new technology is being embraced positively (like the Cabinet Office’s “Digital by Default” programme) – why is this not the case with parking management?
  • the BPA believes that parking enforcement is in the main being applied fairly and reasonably throughout the UK. Constant criticism from government and the media is neither constructive nor helpful in promoting a rational debate which is why we have arranged a Parking Summit on 27 February 2014.
  • no, we do not agree [with a grace period after appeal]; it completely misunderstands and undermines the purpose of the penalty charge in the first place. • Is the government really advocating a 25% discount on the statutory parking penalty charge for parking illegally and losing an appeal?
  • there are no parking controls in place that have not been sanctioned and approved by locally elected politicians. Locally elected politicians already have the powers to decide when and where parking controls are deployed and how they are enforced.
  • the prospect of introducing grace periods for prohibited parking is unworkable; if there is room for people to park without causing a danger or obstruction to others then prohibited parking should be converted to permitted parking.
  • mandatory grace periods become the expected norm and give rise to further claims of unfairness if the grace period is exceeded by short periods.

Living Streets responded with this:

  • the Government‟s concern for struggling local shops, town centres, high streets and parades is creditable, but its proposed changes to local authority parking management and enforcement will achieve little and cost more. It has latched on to the perception held by businesses (and some members of the public) that more parking spaces, lower parking charges or even better „free‟ parking will halt this decline. However, as Living Streets‟ recent report “The pedestrian pound” the business case for better streets and places‟ shows, there are many factors contributing to this decline.
  • the allegation has been made that some local authorities use parking charges to raise revenues. Where there is evidence of this illegal activity it should be dealt with appropriately. Good parking management is essential for all road users, especially the most vulnerable: pedestrians. The use of CCTV to enforce parking is particularly important to discourage inconsiderate and dangerous parking outside schools.
  • local parking strategies and parking enforcement are local matters subject to approval by locally elected councillors. That same democratic process allows local residents and businesses raise issues of local concern. There is nothing to be gained by introducing duplicate powers requiring local authorities to review their parking provision.
  • space in towns and cities is at a premium and the needs of drivers to park their vehicles must be weighed against the equally necessary freedom of movement of pedestrians – especially younger, older or disabled pedestrians to walk safely, for pedestrians to access public transport, and for businesses to operate effectively.
  • from our experience of working with schools and parents we know that this danger is, ironically, one of the key reasons why people drive their children to school! “No stopping” restrictions on the yellow zig-zags outside schools have little effect unless enforced – and without cameras they are almost impossible to enforce outside every school, at the same, peak times.
  • Living Streets is calling on the Government to review the current regulatory framework regarding parking on the footway and to bring forward proposals for a nationwide pavement parking ban along the lines of the Responsible Parking (Scotland) Bill in Scotland. 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.
  • there is support for a national pavement parking ban from a number of organisations. A proposed Private Member‟s Pavement Parking Bill was supported by a range of organisations including: Age UK, British Parking Association, Civic Voice, The GlassHouse Community Led Design, Guide Dogs, Keep Britain Tidy, Design Council Cabe, RNIB and Leonard Cheshire Disability.

The District Council’s network, representing 200 district councils responded:

  • the District Councils’ Network recognises the government’s concern for the regeneration of town centres and thriving local areas. District councils are the statutory planning and housing authorities in two-tier areas, and research by the DCN of our members indicates that districts are already working hard to regenerate town centres and high streets, and support business location and expansion and the jobs this brings. Every local area is different and unique, and district councils, not central government, know best what an area needs and what the population expect from their democratically elected representatives.
  • the District Councils’ Network opposes this intention [of banning use of CCTV enforcement]. The DFT’s statutory guidance already states that CCTV cameras should only be used where parking enforcement is difficult, sensitive or not practical for a parking warden to do. The consultation document itself refers to these as “strict requirements”. We feel this statutory guidance is already sufficiently clear and does not need revising. Further, CCTV cameras are more cost-effective than employing traffic wardens. They also provide a clear record of any parking contravention that has occurred, ensuring that councils can fairly and reasonably apply the rules.
  • if the government does decide to abolish the use of CCTV cameras for parking enforcement, any changes to the statutory guidance that have resource implications should be fully met by central government.
  • district councils already review their parking arrangements actively and regularly as part of good town centre management. Citizens with concerns about parking can already make representations to their directly elected councillors, and many do. The reality is that some unwelcome parking or traffic management restrictions are in place for safety reasons; and if community reviews are introduced, councils must have the ability to explain to residents why these restrictions are in place. Further, councils are experiencing extreme financial pressures, and may not be able to undertake any changes even where councils and residents agree changes would be preferable.

The London Councils responded:

  • government spokesmen have labeled local authority parking enforcement as ‘arbitrary’, ‘unfair’ and designed simply as a way of raising revenue. London Councils refutes all of these descriptions. Enforcing properly made regulations is hardly unfair or arbitrary. It is also clear that local councils are not using parking enforcement with the objective of raising revenue. Not only would this be unlawful (and there is significant public interest from groups on this issue who hold councils to account for this) it would also be a very insecure mechanism for raising revenue as the costs of enforcement take up most if not all the revenue from enforcement.
  • London Councils is also surprised that the consultation document includes no regulatory impact assessment. Such an assessment is considered normal and given the substantial inefficiencies and costs associated with some of the proposals, it is surprising that the Government does not appear to have considered this
  • authorities are advised generally to provide parking provision and set tariffs for short stay parking based on the 85 per cent occupancy rule. Charges are set to manage demand and encourage bay turnover, as this in turn maximises access. If the tariff is set too high, vehicles will not park and bays will remain empty. Such an outcome would quickly lead to pressure on the authority to cut charges and even on a strict financial model, high charges with low occupancy are not financially optimum. If the tariff is set too low for the demand, then you do not get the turnover of spaces, and congestion increases as vehicles circle searching for space. In high streets this makes the location less attractive and does not lead to any more people able to visit local shops. Research has shown that where tariffs are too low, ‘searching’ traffic makes up as much as 30% of traffic flow, which does not simply lead to additional and unnecessary congestion but also to extra pollution. Neither of these make the location attractive to shoppers or visitors. It is in the interest of every borough to get this balance right.
  • estimated calculations would suggest that only 0.15 per cent of parking acts result in the issue of a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) in London. This represents a tiny fraction, and would seem to indicate that the overwhelming majority of motorists do not receive PCNs. This suggests some over emphasis of the scale of any ‘parking problem’ and this is reinforced by research from the RAC which shows that the average motorist pays only £47 a year on parking, compared to more than £1,500 a year on fuel.
  • more parking does not necessarily mean greater commercial success. A well managed parking scheme, where spaces ‘turn over’ frequently can help increase the number of visitors coming to a town centre, and thereby help business.
  • shopkeepers consistently overestimate the share of their customers coming by car. This can be by as much as 400%. In London the share of those accessing urban centres on foot or by public transport is much greater. Walking is the most important mode for accessing local town centres; public transport is the most important mode to travel to International centers (e.g. Oxford Street)
  • London Councils does not agree that CCTV use should be banned, and strongly disagrees with this proposal. CCTV cameras are a vital enforcement tool and any ban would significantly reduce the effectiveness of parking enforcement and have a negative impact on the road traffic network. The use of CCTV outside schools is undertaken to ensure the health and safety of vulnerable road users. It has proved vital in changing parking habits and had a positive effect on road safety.
  • there are many situations where the physical presence of a CEO does not act as a deterrent, as drivers see the officer, move the vehicle, and then move it back when the CEO has left. The threat of CCTV eliminates this problem, and therefore increases compliance.
  • removing the ability to enforce by CCTV would result in significantly increased costs to achieve equitable levels of compliance. Any proposed alternatives would be a backward step for efficiency gains that authorities are striving to deliver in a challenging economic climate.
  • London Councils does not agree that a discount should be offered at appeal stage. It would be hugely costly to implement, encouraging more appeals, with potentially little chance of success and raise unrealistic expectations amongst motorists. No other part of the judicial process in England and Wales encourages someone to pursue a case, and be rewarded for losing. It is, therefore, disproportionate, likely to lead to an abuse of the Parking and Traffic Appeals system and an unnecessary waste of public resources.
  • London Councils does not believe that there should be a ‘statutory’ grace period. The suggestion is unsatisfactory in any circumstance, as motorists would see this as a free parking period, and therefore a right. Motorists would then adjust their habits accordingly, which would have severe consequences on traffic flow and congestion.
  • the introduction of new technological parking solutions (such as payments by mobile phone) now make it easier for a customer to receive warnings and reminders about their remaining time, and top up if necessary. Therefore customers using such options (and these are increasing) should not be in a situation where they are late back to the vehicle.
  • the notion of introducing grace periods where parking is prohibited is unworkable. It is likely that this would see:
    • an increase in congestion and vehicles causing an obstruction.
    • an increase in accidents and road safety incidents.
    • a reduction in the ability to control traffic flow.
    • a reduction in the space for those that actually need it, which would include delivery drivers and blue badge holders.
    • actual damage to the (limited) effect that parking has on high street revival.
    • an increase in motorist confusion about where and when they can and cannot park.
    • encouragement for motorists to disregard parking controls in general.

The consultation responses were evenly divided for and against. According to Roads Minister Robert Goodwill when he appeared before the Transport Select Committee in March 2014: In response to the proposal for a period of ‘grace’, the response was exactly 50:50; 45% of organisations were in favour and 55% were against and  51% of individuals were in favour with 49% against. In response to the proposal that motorists should be entitled to a discount if they pay a fine promptly after having lost on appeal 56% of respondents overall were against the change, including 77% of organisations and 46% of individuals.

It does very much look as reasoned argument is not going to make any difference at present, that the government has already made up its mind and that parking issues are going to get worse before they get better.

I enjoyed reading the warning included in the British Parking Authority that the government should “be careful what they wish for”. They urged the Government to “undertake a full impact assessment of any proposal to ensure that what they seek to achieve does not have unintended consequences”.