Big Ben

Our UK Correspondent a Pensioner?

February, 2014

Peter Guest

I have reached the magic age of 65, which here in England’s green and pleasant land is the state pension age, the point at which the government starts paying me back some of the money I have paid in taxes over the last 50 years. Whoopee!

Meanwhile, it seems that the government anti-parking enforcement campaign has now reached the point where they are planning to legislate to protect “criminals.” The basic law on parking here in the UK was introduced in 1967 – that’s nearly fifty years ago. (I think that this pretty much rules out the “I didn’t know I couldn’t park” as an excuse.)

In plain English, to break the law is a crime, and those who do so

are criminals.

One might have assumed that the government would be in favor of penalizing criminals. You would be wrong.

It’s a true measure of just how inadequate this particular piece of legislation is that 8 million people are detected offending and are penalized. And if we remember the widely held view that less than 10% of offenses are detected, then the picture is closer to anarchy than a well-behaved population.

One of the biggest concerns is people who park around schools at the start and end of the day to drop off and pick up their little angels, who apparently are not capable of walking a few hundred yards.

Now this is quite an intractable problem; positioning a parking attendant at every school twice a day would be prohibitively costly, and in any case, many of the parents would simply ignore them, knowing that a ticket could not be written and issued in the time that they were there.

So, in an attempt to try and curb this behavior, Councils have resorted to using fixed and mobile CCTV systems. These have to comply with stringent technical checks and have to be certified by the government.

The system will detect all offenders on a given day, and they can be ticketed. Even the most thick-skinned school mum is going to think again about parking ’round the corner and walking a hundred yards if the alternative costs $120 a time.

The same systems are also used for other purposes, such as monitoring bus lanes and banned turns, and for managing parking at key points where it is banned and any stationary vehicle would be dangerous and/or obstructive.

Now, I freely admit that the system is not perfect. The signs and markings may be wrong, the ticket process may be flawed. But in virtually all cases, the driver of the vehicle detected is a criminal: They have

been detected committing a crime, and they receive the appropriate financial penalty.

The government doesn’t see it that way. It is apparently “over-zealous” to detect and penalize criminals, particularly this way, and so the government is planning to abolish the use of CCTV for parking enforcement: i.e., support the law breakers rather than the law enforcers.

Now there are arguments that some local authorities have used cameras beyond the purposes for which they were intended, which is true in some cases. Surely though, a rational government would modify the rules, and if they felt necessary, impose penalties for misuse on the enforcers, not simply throw away the only effective tool for parking enforcement in locations where young lives are put at risk by thoughtless actions by a few law breakers.

But, no! The Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles, MP, the porcine Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has declared war on “aggressive” parking enforcement – that is, penalizing law breakers – and this is the first step in his master plan to free up our streets for the random parker.

Previously, Mr. Pickles proposed a 15-minute grace period in “No Parking” zones. But hopefully, he has stepped back from this when it was pointed out that (a) this would be unworkable in practice, and (b) it would require a massive increase in enforcement resources, and fines to avoid total chaos.

Now by selectively quoting evidence – not really evidence, more like opinions – given at the recent parliamentary select committee, Mr. P has convinced his colleagues at the Department of Transport to promote this ridiculous proposal, and given that most government consultations are in effect prior notifications of what will happen, it is likely to go ahead.

The government has a bit of a track record here, and it’s not a good one. Soon after this government of losers came to power, they changed the funding arrangements for speeding and red light cameras. These are police-operated cameras systems installed at locations with high accident records and detect and penalize offenders.

The result was that most cameras were switched off, and people began to die. I wonder how many children will have to die before the government thinks again on this.

Of course, if the government were to widely adopt a policy of support for low-level criminals, the savings to the public purse could be considerable. For example, if shoplifters were allowed to steal up to, say, $10 without penalty, then the government could simply stop paying welfare and let people become self-supporting ... No, that’s just silly.

When I was a little boy, my mother told me I was special. Subsequently, this appellation has been oft-repeated by my younger daughter, although this time while tapping the side of her head and giving a knowing look. Now it’s official.

I recently had a scan to check the condition of my aorta. This is SOP for men at 65 over here in the UK. I was a little concerned, though, when the nurse performing the scan started to look very worried and began fiddling with the machine.

She then gave me a big smile and told me that I was one of very few people who are “plumbed” back to front, with my aorta and vena cava reversed. I was too surprised to ask if this meant that my heart was the wrong way ’round, but, yes, mum, you were right: I am special.

Hope to see you at PIE 2014 next month in Chicago, where I am down to tell you about some of the new technology goodies we are playing with over here.

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.