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Avon and Somerset Police: policies, strategies and powers

23 May

Avon and Somerset police have just responded to a fine freedom of information request about their policies, instructions, strategies and powers in relation to pavement parking in Bristol (and in particular within the BS7 and BS8 postcodes). Their response is more informative by what it omits than for what it says.

Here is my summary of the questions and their answers. Refer to the FOI request for exactly what the questions were and the responses.:

Q: Details of any parking enforcement policy (or part of any policy), strategy or instruction (informal or informal) provided to officers/staff.
A: They have no particular policies, strategies or formal/informal advice and officers are expected to use their discretion taking all the circumstances into account at the time.  I know that the police in my area are hazy about all the complex and ever changing legislation even thought they have a leaflet (which is incomplete and contains errors). Judging by the rest of their response Avon and Somerset Police are also ‘hazy’ on the legislation and on at least one occasion they have concluded that parking completely across the pavement on a blind residential street is not obstruction. Also… of course there will always be informal advice/practice on  an inflammatory issue as parking where there is an absence of formal guidance.

Q: Your organisation’s responsibility and powers in relation to enforcement against pavement parking.
A: To act where they have powers, but not in response to yellow lines etc as responsibility for these has been transferred to the council. See below for details of the list of powers they identify and the apparent gaps in their knowledge.

Q: Have you undertaken an Equalities Impact Assessment in relation to the above?
A. No response provided.

In detailing their powers in relation to pavement parking they identify the following (all of which are valid as far as I know):

  • Highways Act 1980 (section 137.1) Wilful obstruction of a highway by a motor vehicle £30 non endorsable)
  • Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations 1986 (regulation 103) Cause unnecessary obstruction by motor vehicle /trailer £30 non endorsable
  • Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (section 52) Powers to issue a fixed penalty notice
  • Road Traffic Act 1988 (section 19.1) Park an HGV partly/wholly on a footway/verge £60 non endorsable
  • Road Traffic Act 1988 (section 22) Cause vehicle to be left in a dangerous position. £60 endorsable
  • Road Traffic Act 1988 (34.1b) Drive vehicle on a footpath/bridleway etc. non endorsable. £30 offence
  • Road Traffic Act 1988 (section 42) Cause unnecessary obstruction by motor vehicle /trailer £30 non endorsable
  • Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (schedule 2) Cause unnecessary obstruction by motor vehicle /trailer £30 offence

They do, however, fail to mention the following additional powers which I believe are relevant:

  • Highways Act 1980 ( Section 148 and Section 149) it is an offense if ‘a person deposits any thing whatsoever on a highway to the interruption of any user of the highway without lawful authority or excuse‘
  • Road Traffic Act 1988 Act (Section 21). An immediate offense to park ‘wholly or partly’ on a share-use path
  • Zebra, Pelican and Puffin Pedestrian Crossings Regulations and General Directions 1997 (Section 18 and schedule 4). Pedestrian crossing (including the area marked by the zig-zag lines. Enforceable by police even in civil enforcement areas (The Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) General Regulations 2007 – Section 7.1).
  • Traffic Management Act 2004 (section 86). Dropped kerbs for pedestrians to cross road (including places where the carriageway has been raised to meet the level of the pavement).
  • Highway Code (rule 238) prohibition of parking, waiting, stopping or setting down/picking up on School zone (identified by the yellow zig-zag lines).

Causing alarm distress or annoyance

18 May

A couple of evenings ago I had a knock on the door and found two police officers on my doorstep who explained that they had had a complaint from a local resident about someone matching my description who had ‘banged on their door’, told them to move their car and had also said that ‘the police were sh**’. I confirmed that I had indeed ‘rang their door bell’ to explain that their parking had resulted in a wheelchair user having to go into the road. I explained that I was about to report the neighbour’s Jaguar to the police (again) for also making it impossible for the wheelchair user to get past and would report her if she didn’t move it. I did also explain that the police had very little power to stop pavement parking. You will note that my ‘ringing the doorbell’ is her ‘banging on the door’ and that my ‘the police don’t have powers to act’ was turned into her ‘the police a sh**’. The neighbour’s Jaguar is incidentally already in the rogues galley.

The policeman, who I knew, told me that it was illegal to ring people’s door which was news to me! I assume that he was referring to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which introduced an offense of ‘causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress’ (section 154). I hardly think that politely raising an issue with a neighbour on their doorstep once is what the Act was intended to cover.

He also reassured me that if there was a parking problem locally then I should leave it to them! Unfortunately for them and us that is plain wrong and they can’t. He didn’t seem that interested in hearing about the meeting I had just earlier the same day with his sergeant where we had agreed that in many cases it was too much work for the police to make it worthwhile to prosecute even where there was good evidence. Interestingly, in researching this post I did come across a useful piece of related legislation in the Police Reform Act 2002 which gave the police power to seize vehicles ‘used in manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance’ (section 59). It was clearly the opinion of this particular officer that I was causing intentional alarm and distress by raising the tricky issue of this driver’s parking on the doorstep but that the vehicle owner was not causing ‘distress or annoyance’ by leaving the car across the pavement. But hey, ho, that is how it normally works at present whenever pedestrian and motorist issues conflict.

Anyone campaigning on this issue does need to be careful not to stray into ‘using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting‘ which could result in a day in the magistrates court for harassment!

If the local police do wish to have a go at sorting out pavement parking in the town then here are some challenges for them. All these drivers have parked vehicles completely across the pavement or across and raised crossing in the past 48 hours and most have also blocked a dropped kerb, and… one of these vehicles is the very same Jaguar that I mentioned earlier and which was back blocking the raised crossing the day after I had reported it to the police in almost precisely the same stop as it was when I took the picture in the rogues’ gallery.

Large van completely blocking pavement and dropped kerb while driver popped into the corner shop

Making a deliveryto the university while fully on the pavement and blocking a dropped kerb

Removal van needlessly block busy footway on approach to the college campus

Our friend the Jaguar driver again

‘without favour or affection, malice or ill will’

30 Apr

I have just been reading this impressive memorandum to a Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs into ‘Walking in towns and cities’ back in 2000 which included the following observation:

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.

He went on to suggest that the police were breaking the law by treating motorists and pedestrians differently quoting from the 1964 Police Act which requires every police officer to declare that they will discharge their duties ‘without favour or affection, malice or ill-will‘. (Police Act 1964 Schedule 2) The flowery wording he quotes has incidentally been updated subsequently by the Police Act 1996 (as amended by the Police Reform Act 2002) and now reads ‘with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality.‘ (section 29 and schedule 4)

He suggested that it would be illegal for the police to respond to the chair in the road but not the car on the pavement: ‘[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.]’

So what happened? Well, the committee subsequently reported, and I quote, that: ‘walking has been made ever more unpleasant. Pedestrians have been treated with contempt’. That’s what I love about these cross-party select committees, they don’t hold back with their views! ‘Contempt’, that is a strong word but I suggest that it is accurate.

So… back to the police. Would it be fair and impartial for the police to allow motorists to leave their property (ie cars) on the pavement and to then prosecute a pedestrian for leaving objects of their choice on the carriageway? I am tempted to find out! What if there was an outbreak of chairs, sheds, planters and other interesting but unauthorised objects left on the carriageway for the convenience of their owners, to slow traffic or to beautify the area? Personally I favour planters or other useful objects.

What would happen if one responded to the inevitable approach from the police or from the council by politely reminding the police of their pledge to fairness and impartiality and the council of their duty to remove all ‘things’ left on the highway which constitute a danger to users of the highway (including a danger caused by obstructing the view) and and to stop being blind to vehicles which are also ‘things’ in the eyes of the law (Highways Act 1980 Sections 148149)

If they attempt to say that cars are different then one can challenge them and also start muttering about why bins left permanently on the pavement are so different. If they start talking about these new objects being a danger to traffic one would mutter about the requirement for drivers to drive appropriately for the conditions (including conditions where there are objects clearly visible in the carriageway) and to question the implied assumption that it is more safe for motorists to avoid pedestrians who are forced onto the carriageway that for drivers to avoid chairs/planters etc that don’t even move!

My only reservation is that I have great respect for my local police who are pulling their hair out over pavement parking and who are also offering me very visible support for this campaign. It is possible, of course, that they would understand the irony of the action and may even quietly be in support of it.

I will sign off with another observation by a parliamentary select committee from 2006 where they said: ‘We accept that the problem of vehicles obstructing footpaths country-wide is a large one and a major effort would be required to enforce the law. But the ‘do- nothing’ response of the Department is no longer a credible option’. Select Committee on Transport Seventh Report – Parking: para 261) and then that ‘The Government must grip the problem of pavement parking once and for all and ensure that it is outlawed throughout the country, and not just in London’ (para 262)

Drivers under instruction

28 Mar

Driving instructors are there to show people how to drive. For one driving instructor this unfortunately included a demonstration of how to drive up onto the pavement to avoid walking anywhere; for another it was a demonstration of how to take the police to task about their own illegal parking and winning a public apology!

Back to the first story. This is about a driving instructor for the Bill Plant Driving school who drove up onto the pavement outside his pupil’s house to avoid the inconvenience of parking further away legally and walking. He then demonstrated to his pupil how to tell a pedestrian (me) that it was OK because he ‘had only been there for a few minutes’. Here are a couple of pictures, the first is of the vehicle as the instructor dismounted the pavement with the pupil as a passenger. The second was taken after I have spoken with the driver.

The Bill Plant Driving School vehicle close up

The second story is more inspiring. It is about a determined driving instructor who challenged the police about their parking and eventually got an apology. The police had parked their van illegally on yellow lines alongside ‘police no parking’ bollards outside a patisserie thereby totally obscuring the view for anyone, including this instructor’s 17yo pupil, who was trying to exit from a narrow side street. Rather than accept that they were in the wrong the police unfortunately tried to turn the attention onto the instructor by saying that he had committed an offense by leaving a learner alone in charge of a vehicle! Not to be discouraged the instructor had his photo of the incident published in the local paper alongside an article about the incident and got a public apology from the police.

This is important stuff. Culture is passed on by example and in particular by teachers. These examples show the difference between good teaching and sloppy teaching. I am now going to email the Bill Plant Driving School.