Having plenty of suitable places for people to park their cars is a necessary policy on a crowded island like ours.
If we can ensure more of our cars are parked off road when they are not being used, more of the road space is available for when we do wish to use them. Taking cars off road should offer them better protection, and make getting into and out of them safer and easier, especially if you have bags with you at the time.
Having plenty of easy to use parking near shops is important to the success of shopping centres. You cannot easily go shopping by train, as it is cumbersome returning with the bags and packages, and they are not welcome on most trains. Buses too have their limitations when it comes to the weekly shop, though they can get a bit nearer the shops than trains can. Many buses have very limited space for luggage and shopping bags.
Getting children to and from school by car as many do is also a hazardous and difficult process. Most state schools now prevent parents driving into the school grounds to drop off and collect, wishing to avoid danger on school territory and responsibility for safety. As a result many children are dropped off by the side of busy roads, often more dangerous than in the school grounds. Councils have countered in some cases, appreciating the dangers, by putting in lower speed limits at drop off and pick up times of day. This still does not prevent accidents from opening doors without watching, pulling out too quickly, or a passing motorist unable to see a child darting out from behind a vehicle into the road.
Mr Pickles has recently intervened in this debate and urged Councils not to see parking as just another money raising opportunity. Some Councils can and do exploit monopoly positions on parking, others exploit a shortage of private sector alternative provision or work with private operators keeping spaces limited. That is why Mr Pickles suggests that it should be easier for people to rent out their driveways where they wish, to give them a new source of income and to provide some competition to Council car parks to help keep prices down.
He has also asked whether we could have some greater tolerance of short term parking in resticted places to buy a single item or pick something up from an adjacent shop. In some places enforcement is sharp and unrelenting, whatever the circumstances.
We do need a new parking settlement. New housing should have better parking provision to keep more cars off the road. Councils should look again at how they can provide safer access to schools, to lessen clashes with busy roads. Town centre improvements should include the supply of plentiful and sensibly priced parking to encourage more people in, instead of driving to a bigger centre further away or using the out of town facilites to the exclusion of the town centre. Some double yellow restrictions are crucial to the free flow of traffic and should not be relaxed, but other limitations, especially many single yellow lines, could be considered for short stay parking without impeding the main highways.
Councils should see parking as an important service to help keep town centres lively, to facilitate people getting to work and school, and to help local businesses. Just seeing it as a source of revenue forces parking prices up, frustrates people trying to find one out of too few spaces, and adds to the sense of injustice many taxpayers feel who put much money into the system but seem to get very little back.