Magazine

Big Ben

Its Official The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum!

By Peter Guest

Back last summer, our UK Parliament looked at how municipal parking worked here. In particular, how local authorities enforce the rules. This was done via a “Select Committee” in the House of Commons, which is independent of the government and largely apolitical.

For years, the media have run stories about “evil” parking enforcers who hide behind walls and leap out to penalize “innocent” (that is, law-breaking) motorists for daring to park where they are told “don’t park,” or to presume that if they pay for an hour, they should be allowed to stay as long as they want, without penalty.

Of course, as with most press accounts, there is a grain of truth behind the stories.

Some regulations aren’t correct, and when an error has been made, some councils are reluctant to own up or cancel the ticket; but most of time, most of what’s done is legal, honest and decent.

Recently, the media have targeted using CCTV to detect violations, where the citation is mailed after the event.

The Select Committee gathered evidence from anyone who wanted to express a view, and, in October, reported its findings and recommendations, which were all a bit vague.

In December, the government produced a “consultation paper,” which, to say the least, was contentious. It presented one side of the issues and took as read that there was a problem, and that the problem was the local authorities, rather than issues such as non-compliance.

The consultation was reduced to just 10 questions, many of which any self-respecting social researcher would have thrown out at the draft stage as meaningless, leading or biased.

The government “summary” and response have now been published. It’s a revealing exercise in double-think and obfuscation, and does not provide any evidence to support much of what the government now plans to do.

First, on this “major” issue, just 836 (60% individuals, 40% organizations) could be bothered to pick up their pens. This hardly supports views that the issue is a national scandal! It gets worse; 62% of respondents thought there wasn’t a problem at all!

Perhaps this was the point at which many would look for something else to do. But, no, they kept on going, and on the basis of just 262 negative responses, they are planning to legislate.

The next question was a doozy. People were asked if they had a view on CCTV enforcement, a yes-no answer; and, unsurprisingly, 93% did. However, there was not a single argument at all to support the government assertion that this tool should be banned. Indeed, all the quoted responses emphasized how important this enforcement tool is.

The government has conceded that there are circumstances where CCTV is appropriate, but still intends to outlaw its use in most cases.

In my long life, this is the first time that I can recall where a government has legislated to support lawbreakers by reducing the ability of the law-enforcers to enforce. This is not being done because the mechanism is in any way flawed, but simply because the media have mounted a sustained campaign to say that catching and penalizing lawbreakers is unfair.

What next, a ban on fingerprints for robbers, DNA for rape?

The next question had a tinge of sanity. A few local authorities carry on issuing tickets in places where an adjudicator (the appeal of last resort for motorists) has ruled there is a problem precluding enforcement. The proposed change in law will allow the adjudicator to bar such action until the problem is fixed.

I have long argued for this, and for the next proposal, which means drivers who have been treated unfairly can get the cost of appealing refunded. About 25% of the time, a driver will turn up at an adjudication hearing to find that the council is a no-show. They win the case by default but have to bear the costs.

I think that councils have a duty to pursue offenders but also to cancel any ticket they can’t justify. Making a driver go to the expense of an appeal and then not showing up for the fight is nasty and vindictive.

The Select Committee also recommended a 25% discount on drivers who appeal and lose. There is a 50% discount for those who pay up early, and a 50% surcharge for those who won’t pay or pay late.

I cannot imagine that anyone who has not paid early won’t now appeal, since by ticking the “appeal” box, they get 25% off. It’s sad that senior ministers and civil servants can no longer do basic arithmetic.

The current law gives councils powers to manage traffic. Good practice should mean that any regulation is monitored so that it remains in effect only if it is relevant. Sadly, many regulations have been in effect for decades, and they are there “because they are there.”

The government is going to remind of the need to review and update, if required. Did this require a Select Committee and a consultation?

Drivers should get a grace period after paid-for time expires. So you pay for an hour, and you buy 70 minutes. It will be a month before a local authority reduces the paid-for time to 50 minutes. Will the government also legislate to allow shoppers spending more than £10 in a shop to take another £1 worth of goods for free?

The final question sought responses on “any other issues,” and respondents flagged the need to deal with the problems of parking on the “footways,” which can put pedestrians, wheelchair-users and the blind at risk; and with the problem of unregistered vehicles. Two major issues: The government response? Do nothing.

Me, I give up. They are all mad, and I have decided to run away and hide.

I have started working as a volunteer at a museum in Weybridge, Surrey, where most of the things are older than I am and I can understand what’s going on.

Check out the Brooklands Museum website on the Internet

(www.brooklandsmuseum.com), and if you want to see where British motorsports started and Britain’s aviation history is rooted, come over and I’ll show you around.



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 August, 2014




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