The National Trust and BOJO’s Parking Code
The National Trust (NT) is one of those marvelous Victorian institutions founded by wealthy people to do good works. Its raison d’etre: to preserve Britain’s historic buildings and landscape. It does this very well, owning hundreds of buildings and thousands of acres of land, which are protected forever for everyone. One of my favorite sites is a stretch of Dorset coast with a beautiful beach, totally undeveloped and unspoiled. There is one low key café/shop and some toilets, that’s it. I haven’t been for a couple of years (pandemic) so when I went recently, I was disappointed to see “change equals improvement” in action.
The beach has a largish parking area, not paved, as well as the aforementioned buildings. To use it you had to show your NT membership card. Not a member, not a problem, pay a modest flat rate charge to park. If you haven’t brought a car just walk in, no charge, everyone welcome.
Now, this is simple and quick, and payers can get their fee refunded if they join the NT, which quite a few do because the NT has so many other places you can visit. Now the beach is incredibly popular in summer, so the car park quickly fills up on a sunny day. Their strategy on these days is to open a large field across the road as overflow parking. It’s simple, it worked, and everyone was happy.
Then along came an “improver”; probably a consultant, may the crabs eat their toes. Human interaction is old fashioned. Let’s replace the cheery person in the booth, selling extra memberships, with a pay and display parking meter, selling nothing. The booth is still there but shuttered and empty, like the sad memory of a departed friend. So, we drive past it to find new meters in the car park.
I can still park for free, the machine will read my membership card’s QR code and give me a ticket, for now. I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the glass on the reader gets scratched by a combination of the sand and salt air, then, even although I am entitled to free parking, I won’t be able to get it. And of course, when the sun is in just the right position, you can’t read the screen anyway.
Also, because cars are no longer being counted as they enter, on busy days, they won’t know when it’s time to move across the road. Did they think that through?
The tickets are designed to be laid on the dashboard to be checked. Did I mention that this was a beach car park? At least half the cars parked have a reflective sunscreen on the windscreen, completely masking the dashboard from external scrutiny. Oops! The cost of handling the correspondence from outraged NT members who get a citation would probably cancel the national debt.
Then you have the whole citation/fines/collections thing. The NT is absolutely 100 percent focused on customer experience; friendly people at the door, mostly volunteers who will go the extra mile to make you welcome. I once forgot my card and the greeter went and looked me up on the computer so I could get in. Who’s going to issue citations? Not the 70-year-old volunteer. And if they get in a contractor who will simply want to collect the money, customer service will be gone.
So, change yes, improvement, no way, and hopefully they will soon return to the old status quo. It wasn’t broke, so why, oh, why did you try to fix it? Nothing to do with parking, but I noticed that the café which offered simple fare using real plates and cups and glasses (you know, use them, wash them, use them again) has also been “improved.” Now they have paper plates and cups, creating an enormous pile of litter. Now the cups and plates are compostable, but only if the users put them in the right bin. Why change? Sadly, based on my breakfast bacon roll, the food is now made using the same material.
Back in my hometown we have just had the Farnborough International Air show. This runs every two years but got cancelled last time due to… (can you guess?). Last time, the council decided to protect the residential streets nearest the airport by making them residents only parking. Seems sensible, only they didn’t bother with any of the boring but necessary legal processes needed to do this. Not surprisingly they got into trouble.
So, this year they seem to have done something similar. They produced a document purporting to be a traffic order. I haven’t been able get hold of a copy yet, but I would bet a small sum that it won’t stand up to scrutiny, either in format or procedurally. Doesn’t matter though; to put such an order into effect the council has to install both signs and street markings that comply fully with designs and positions prescribed by law. They didn’t, so it’s not valid. This isn’t rocket science.
Most premier league football grounds in England have similar restrictions that only apply on match days. All they have to do is go and talk to one of those councils and everything would be fine.
You may have seen that we are in the process of replacing our prime minister by a labyrinthine bureaucratic process that left BOJO in the job long after he was sacked. His time was up when ministers were resigning faster than he could replace them, meaning that the country was rapidly becoming ungovernable. One of his claimed “wins” while in power was to promote the so-called Private Parking Code of Practice.
I have written at length over the years about the dysfunctional private parking industry in this country. It’s pretty much like the Wild West out there, with decades of bad practice, including criminality, treated with indifference by the government. When they have occasionally tried to do something, they have tinkered at the margin making small and mostly ill thought through changes, which have left both the motorists and the operators dissatisfied and/or incensed.
This was all going to be solved by a big new idea, a mandatory code of practice which operators would have to obey to continue to operate. The kindest word I can think of to describe the code is Tosh. Clearly whoever drew it up had at best a limited understanding of financial reality, setting charges to mirror those set by the local council which has nothing to do with the economics of running a business for profit.
As far as I can see, although compliance with the code is mandatory, it doesn’t obviously carry any sanction or penalty to a car park operator who opts to ignore it. The result, rather inevitably, has been that the operators have given up on trying to reason with the government and gone to law.
Faced with the risk of yet another defeat in the courts, the government has backed off and withdrawn the code. This was completely predictable. Rather than lurching from bodge to bodge, I wish that the government would sit down and pro-actively set out what they do want, rather than keep trying to reactively fix the thing they don’t.