Notes from Big Ben …
This Has Nothing to do with Parking
By Peter Guest
There is only one story here ... and it has nothing to do with parking.
Apologies for going off the subject, but this needs telling. Members of the British Parliament (MPs) get a relatively modest salary in world terms and an allowance so that they can have two places to live: one near Parliament and one in their constituency.
This is/was seen as increasing democracy, since it meant that worthy people were not discouraged from becoming MPs because of the cost.
There are rules: Basically, you can claim a reasonable amount for the extra cost of the second home, and for years “we the people” have been trying to find out who got what and for what under the Freedom of Information Act.
The “honourable members” have tried to block this, including the Speaker of the House, who as a result became the first person in that ancient and honourable position to get fired in 300 years, but the courts have told the MPs to publish the information.
It seems that even then the parliamentarians were trying to prepare a cleaned-up version of the information when the UK’s own “Deep Throat” gave the unexpurgated records to the press.
We have MPs who claimed for mortgages they didn’t have. One guy claimed for a place, and then let it to another MP, who then claimed the rent. We have people who claimed to have their moats cleaned out, and people who claimed for repairs on a house miles from either their constituency or London. It goes on and on.
Those caught with their hands in the cookie jar are either paying back the money or saying, for example, that there is nothing wrong with telling the tax people that one home is your main home to avoid paying tax when you sell it and then a few days later telling the parliamentary officials that your other home is your main residence to get a bigger allowance.
Another “spiffing” plan was for two married MPs to each claim a different house as their main home to get double allowance. The press said that up to half of the current MPs will not stand in the next election, possibly to avoid the embarrassment of being beaten by single-issue anti-corruption candidates. “We the people” just want to see the bastards in jail.
I thought I had heard it all ... but this is a new one on me.
Booting on private land is a very contentious issue here, because, frankly, some of the people involved are crooks. Drivers park, and within a few minutes are booted and then charged hundreds of dollars to get their cars back.
Someone in North London seems to have gone one better. Local traders get a call asking them to come to “Flat 131,” Frognal Court on Finchley Road, Hampstead, to do some work. The caller says that it is all right to park in the apartment block’s private car park.
The scam is that there is no Flat 131, and when the driver comes back, the car’s booted, and they have to pay $450.
The booting company says they know nothing about the calls; they are just doing what the management company tells them. The management company says: “Nothing to do with us.” Yeah, right.
But the Council can go one better ...
Ruth Ducker parked her car legally in a street in Lambeth in South London. The Council wanted to make the street “No parking,” so they towed her car away to paint the required yellow lines. They then returned the car to the same place. Along came a warden who ticketed the now illegal parker and had it towed to the pound.
We have a system where when any car is towed in London, it goes on to a central register, but it took Ducker three weeks before she could track down her car and the intervention of her MP (highly respected and not amongst those mentioned above) to get more than $3,000 in fines and charges canceled and the car returned. Ducker is still waiting for the $150 compensation that she was offered.
Is this the dumbest parking law ever?
London, that is, Central London, has a problem. Parking is in short supply, and some people park without too much thought when they see a gap. The problem is that this can block dropped curbs provided to allow wheelchairs to cross roads or to give access to properties.
This is obstruction, an offense under common law for at least a thousand years, but enforcement is up to the police. Solution: Make a new law that makes this a recognized offense on a municipal parking ticket. Job done.
Unfortunately, someone in the Department of Transport decided that it would be a wonderful idea if this power were granted nationwide.
If your driveway is blocked, the police would respond to a complaint and deal with it. City parking officers can issue a ticket anywhere a car blocks a dropped curb, whether there is a complaint or not.
My daughter’s boyfriend, the Gerbil, often parks his car across my driveway when he visits. No problem: I know who he is and where he is if I want to get a car out. This also leaves other spaces for the people using the park across the road from me.
But as of June 1, the Gerbil risks a $120 fine. There is no notice, no warning and no enquiry at the house before the ticket is issued, and the government does not fear that the cities will use this power to print money!
My Council, always at the front when it comes to a total mess, has marked permitted parking bays across dropped curbs. Way to go, guys.
We is green ...
I know that, in the past, JVH (a.k.a. Attila) has gone public on the global warming issue and that he is not convinced. However, Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer (1 pound in every 3 spent in supermarkets here goes through a Tesco till), seems to have reached different view. Starting with some of its London stores, they are going to start installing electric-car recharge points.
Now Tesco is one of the few major businesses here that has actually increased profitability in the last year, and much as we love and respect you, John, if Tesco says it’s happening, I’m inclined to listen.
Interestingly enough, “recharge points” also featured in a couple of the entrants to the Best New Car Park category in the British Parking Association awards. Maybe time to think again, John?
Note from JVH: Peter, I know your tongue is firmly in cheek, but my guess is that Tesco is probably as good a harbinger of global warming as Al Gore, Prince Charles or some third-level functionary at the EU offices in Brussels. (BTW, this was the coldest May in recent history in the U.S.) Can you research and see if Tesco gets any tax reduction due to its “green” status? (Another BTW, how many “electric” vehicles exist in the UK? I know there are a total of eight in the entire Cincinnati area of Ohio.)
Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent on all things European and Middle East. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Article Abstract from July, 2009