Magazine

Big Ben

Building Melts Car Now What?

Peter Guest

Many years ago, I was part of a team that was asked to review the design of a carpark in a very prestigious new building in SE Asia. I won’t name it, but it was a world-class building, and its success was a matter of national pride.

Well, there were two problems with the carpark; one, it was really, really bad; and two, they had already built it.

After more than two hours of diplomatically trying to explain to ”the man” issues – such as, it would be a problem trying to get more than 4,000 vehicles through a single lane in an hour; but that he didn’t need to worry since the turn was so tight that, in fact, no cars would get through – I finally had enough, and when he said, “What do you suggest?,” without thinking I said, “Have you got a wrecking ball?” I managed to escape with my skin, but I suspect that it was pretty close.

What brought this to mind is the story about a new building in London’s financial district. The so-called walkie-talkie is a shiny new $360m building, at 20 Fenchurch St., shaped a bit like an old-fashioned two-way radio with a curved glass facade, and that’s where the problem lies.

It seems the curve glass focuses the sun on the roadway, and recently the glare partly melted a Jaguar parked in a nearby street. Local workers have been treated to the sight of a bike slowly smouldering, and it has set fire to the carpet in one shop and blistered the paint on another.

The City of London Corp. has suspended the parking spaces while a solution is sought, but what can they do? You can’t have a building that could randomly set fire to the neighbors. Suggested solutions include sandblasting the glass, but I kind of feel that my solution might soon be on the agenda. $350m doesn’t sound like much if you say it quickly.



Not Sure This Helps

Our public health system here in the UK has always had a problem with carparking. Hospitals get no government money to provide parking, and at some point, the land runs out and they need to build a garage. Option (a) start charging for the previously free parking to fund the build; or Option (b) get the private sector involved with a PPP project and allow them to charge to get their investment back.

Either way, the user pays, and local media start running stories about the poor unfortunates who have to pay to get treated in a free health service. Strangely, no one ever writes a story about how the bus users also have to pay to get to the hospital, but that’s another story.

The next problem is the staff – often very dedicated and usually low paid – “free” parking is the only “perk” they get. Now, however, more and more hospitals are charging their staff.

It’s usually quite nominal; I think my wife pays about a dollar a day, or less. But East Kent Hospitals recently decided to just about double parking charges for the lowest paid and to increase the charge by an eye-watering 275% for those earning more than $75,000 a year.

Hospital staff have been pegged to a 1% pay rise the last few years, and for the lowest paid, the increase equates to about a week’s pay, or 2% of what they earn.

Staffing is a problem, and no matter how dedicated the people are, I suspect this will move a few from the hospital ward to shelf-stacking at the local supermarket, where the pay is better and there is little stress. The plan is to raise money to build a new carpark; I suspect that East Kent Hospitals might have solved the problem by reducing the number of parkers.



The ‘High Streets’

It has been said by his detractors that our Prime Minister “doesn’t do detail.” And this might explain why he and his ministers continue to back the now largely discounted “Portas Report,” published in 2011, which recommended, among other things, that all the ills of the world would be solved by free parking.

Described variously as “insane,”“foolish” and “nostalgic,” and as “a publicity stunt” by retailers, it seems the only supporters for this fact-free “Grand Plan,” without any measure of whether or not it has worked, are the government. One minister seems to be stuck in a groove of blaming all our economic ills on those naughty councils and their war on the motorist.     

To drive their ideas forward, the government has created a $2m fund to revitalize 12 pilot “high streets”; the result has been that in 10 of the 12, more shops have closed than have opened. Even if the PM doesn’t do detail, surely he has enough political sense to know that, on this, he is in a hole and it’s time to stop digging?

But on the Other Hand ...

Northampton Council decided to allow free parking on Saturdays and two hours free

stay in the its municipal carparks. The council announced that the result was that more

than 8,000 additional cars used the carparks in August.

No analysis is given of this number, however; is it more shoppers, transfers from other sites, people who had traded down from two weeks abroad to a “staycation” at home? It will be interesting to see if there is an equivalent uplift in retail activity.



Don’t Mess with the ‘Garda’

An Garda Síochána are the Irish National

Police and the ultimate backup for people who don’t pay their parking tickets in Ireland, as columnist and commentator John Waters found out to his cost.

A couple of years ago, he got a $50 ticket in Dún Laoghaire, a seaside town just south of Dublin, for overstaying his parking – by one minute, he claimed. He refused to pay for two years and ignored a summons to the district court, which then issued an arrest warrant.

Cue the Garda, and Mr. Waters surrendered himself at the police station to be taken off for a day in jail. Don’t know about you guys, but I value my time at more than $50 for a day, and I suspect that he still has to pay the fine!



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

peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.

Article Abstract from October, 2013




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