Politicians have short memories, and other truths...
One consequence of being old is that you remember stuff; it’s called “having knowledge and experience.” However, it seems that this doesn’t apply if you are a politician.
I have written before of a certain Mr. Eric Pickles, who rejoices by the title UK Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, an Oliver Hardy-ish figure who seems to have a rather short memory span, a bit like a goldfish.
Ollie, sorry, Eric, promoted the idea of free parking to help resuscitate the retail trade in UK towns and cities, based on, it seems, one person’s opinions and no facts. When the facts were published – that people on bikes and walking spend more than people in cars, and that car-borne shoppers are a much smaller proportion of shoppers than Mr. P thought – the rotund one simply forgot or ignored this and castigated local councils for their war on motorists, a war that mostly (but not completely, see below) seems to consist of enforcing the law, something one would have hoped that an elected member of the government would have been broadly in favor of.
Now, the cheerful chubby chap is at it again. He recently announced that he intends to allow motorists to park “for up to 15 minutes” on yellow lines while they “pop” into local shops. Yellow lines are used here to denote “No Parking” areas and are put in so that traffic can flow freely and access to premises is protected – which is, although it seems that Mr. P has forgotten this, the main purpose of a road.
Can this work? No. Way back in the 1970s, the burghers of Brighton decided that they would allow local residents an exemption from the yellow lines that they had put in to manage the thousands of tourists and day-trippers that came to the coastal town each summer. The result was chaos, and the police ticketed the residents for obstruction. To ensure that this never happened again, the government issued a notice to all councils re-stating the rules.
Since the 1970s, things have changed: There are about 50% more cars on the road for one thing, but the principle is the same – the yellow lines mark places where moving traffic has precedence.
How will they measure 15 minutes without a massive increase in enforcement with consequentially more tickets and more fines for those who stop for too long?
How will the enforcers distinguish between those who are shopping and those who aren’t, and what happens if I stop round the corner because someone is already outside the shop I want to visit?
Were this bonkers idea ever to be implemented, I suspect that the three most likely outcomes would be: 1) a significant increase in town center congestion, as roads are blocked by parked cars; 2) a significant reduction in carpark income, as drivers use the yellow lines rather than pay for parking; 3) a massive increase in parking fines revenue as councils target drivers who think that 15 minutes really means 30 minutes and are surprised and cry foul when they find it doesn’t.
Will Mr. P then tell councils that to try to actually manage his brainstorm by using the powers that Parliament gave them is unfair and just intensifying his imaginary war?
And he’s not even the Minister of Transport, so it’s not his decision anyway.
On the Other Hand
Our UK legal system is incredibly complicated, but some things are very clear. Most of the powers that councils have to operate parking back to a law made in 1984, which was in turn a restatement of an act from 1967. That act is continuously refined and updated, but the basic principles remain unchanged.
Its purpose is to manage traffic, and to do this, the councils can charge for parking. The act is very clear: Charges are to manage demand, not to raise money. In legal-speak, “It is not a fiscal power.”
Despite this, councils have been a bit cavalier in how they interpret this, and as long ago as 1995, the High Court very forcibly reminded councils of this point in a judgment, and one would have hoped that that would have been that.
Not at all, the London Borough of Barnet decided it would be OK to use their parking fees to raise some extra “dosh.” They might have concocted a story about increased costs and so on, but not the Elected of Barnet. They went in with all guns blazing, openly stating that residents would pay a 150% increase in their charges so the council could fund other projects. It was a tax pure and simple.
Well, some of those residents could read, and some were even lawyers who could read acts of Parliament. It all ended in tears in the High Court in July, when the council had its charge hike struck down and was ordered to pay the money back. This leaves the council about $3m to find, plus the legal costs, and another dozen or so council charges are coming under scrutiny as a result.
Barnetians are huffing and puffing, and say they will appeal. A wise man once said, “When you are in a hole, it’s best to stop digging.”
I’ve Not Been Well
In the whole of my life, I have spent only a couple of nights in hospital, so when I found myself in Accident and Emergency (ER, in Yankee-speak) connected to a drip feeding me morphine, it was a bit of a shock. It was my daughter’s birthday, and we had been out for a meal to celebrate.
I woke up with what I thought was indigestion, which got worse and worse, and eventually my wife took me in to the hospital. A few prods and pokes, and the doctor was pretty certain that I had a gallstone, so onto the morphine drip and off for an X-ray and an ultrasound scan.
Yep, and it’s a big one, at nearly 2cm (about ¾-inch), and I need an operation. They talked about doing it at once, but since the morphine worked, I have been moved to the waiting list. And the worst thing? My wife works in the hospital, and it was her day off.
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian.
Contact him at email@example.com.