Parking issues highlighted during the discussion on the Deregulation Bill

Mr Redwood: We have just heard 37 minutes of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden), largely misunderstanding the Government’s modest proposals or exaggerating their consequences. Let me reassure him that I, too, would wish to see an inquiry into a maritime disaster reopened as soon as there was significant new evidence and a hope of getting closure for the troubled families, or safety recommendations to save people who venture on the seas in the future. I am quite sure that is what the Minister said and, as I understand it, that is exactly what the Bill achieves.

Similarly, in the case of taxis, none of us here wish to endanger people using taxis, as some Opposition Members seem to think the Government wish to do, but the proposals are nothing to do with that. They are to do with the possible use of a hire car vehicle by the family of the licensed user for their own family purposes, but not plying for hire. It seems a perfectly reasonable and modest proposal so that families who do not have a large income do not have to run two cars, which they might find difficult to do.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Legislation must take account of possible unintended consequences, not just what seems to be a nice idea on the surface.

Mr Redwood: I agree, and that is what we are debating today. I am on the side of the Minister on this occasion. He might find that remarkable, but it seemed to me that he made a reasonable and moderate case. The language in the Bill and in the Government amendments does the job, so I am trying to reassure the Opposition, who seem to be giving a long-winded and misguided interpretation of what the Government intend. I would say the proposals are too modest overall. I would like to see more deregulation coming forward in these important areas, but in no way do I wish to jeopardise safety or give people a bad ride in their taxi.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman realises that taxi drivers, private hire vehicle drivers and the rest of the people in the trade are not asking for other drivers to be able to drive their cars; in fact, they are saying that family members should not be allowed to do so.

Mr Redwood: Some are with the hon. Lady and some are with the Government. She cannot generalise quite as wildly as she does. I understand that some associations take that line, but if one talks to taxi drivers and private vehicle drivers, one finds people on both sides of the argument. I do not want to go into those sensitive issues; I just offered a little support to the Minister because the language captures exactly what everybody in the House wishes to achieve—better safety and security.

I want to concentrate on the issue of car parking. I am grateful that the Government have brought forward, again, an extremely modest proposal to deal with the fact that many motorists feel they are picked on by councils that have turned parking controls into a way of making easy money out of them. The proposal goes only a little way in the direction I would like the Government to take. I understand the Minister’s difficulties, because we need quite a lot of local decision making, but the idea behind his proposal is that simple camera enforcement is not always the right way to go. I gave an example in an intervention to show how camera enforcement of a bus lane proposal could be very misleading and unfair to the individual concerned, who was trying to keep out of the way of an emergency vehicle. That is not always captured by the fixed position of the camera, which concentrates on the bus lane. There could be similar problems with parking enforcement.

The problem, which is a large one for many electors, comes from too many parking restraints and restrictions that have not been well thought through. Once again, Members have rightly defended good parking controls. I am very much in favour of good parking controls. I agree that we need to stop people parking on blind bends, near pedestrian crossings or in places where their vehicle could obstruct the line of sight and endanger safety. I also agree that we need parking restrictions on roads where the parking would get in the way of the flow of traffic, because that not only impedes the traffic and stops people getting to work or taking their children to school, but can create danger by causing frustration among motorists.

It makes sense to have sensible parking restrictions that ensure that the flow on roads is reasonable, junctions have good sight lines and are safe, bends have the best sight lines possible, and so forth. That should be common ground in the House, and I do not think the Minister is trying to stop councils doing that or enforcing those sensible restrictions strongly and fairly, as we want. But the type of parking restriction that we may well be talking about here, where some relaxation is needed, is where a piece of road which the council designates as safe and fair for people to park on at certain times of day or certain days of the week and not others is subject to such complicated regulation that sometimes a law-abiding motorist cannot work out from the local signs and practices whether the parking regulation applies or not. For example, do the parking restrictions apply on bank holidays? Often, the sign is silent on that point. Is the sign clear about whether different rules apply on Sundays? Is the sign close enough to the parking area in question? Are there different restrictions on different sides of the same street, as sometimes happens in London? Do we know where one set of restrictions ends and another begins?

There can also be variable bus lane times, and it can be difficult to keep up with the changing regulations. This shows that there are circumstances in which a council thinks it perfectly reasonable to allow parking in a particular area or use of a bus lane at certain times but not at others. The motorist could be in genuine doubt about the restrictions, or perhaps feel that they were unfair or frivolous because they did not fall into the category of restrictions that are essential to ensuring that traffic can flow and that safety sightlines are maintained.

We can use this little debate to probe the underlying problem that we are trying to address. We can also use it to allow the House of Commons to tell councils that some of them are overdoing parking restrictions or are chopping and changing the regulations too often during the day or on different days of the week. Perhaps those regulations have not been properly thought through. Perhaps the enforcement is unfair, or too sharp. If someone has been delayed by three minutes while paying for something in a shop, they could find that they have committed an offence because they could not get back to their car within the given time on their ticket. People often have to be quite prescient in those circumstances. They need to know exactly how long it will take them to get to the shop, find their goods, queue to pay for them at the till and get out again. They do not want to overpay for what can be quite expensive parking, but if they get it slightly wrong, they can end up with a big fine. That is why people think that this is a nasty lottery in which the councils are the only winners, and camera enforced parking restrictions can be even worse for the individuals concerned.

So, one cheer for the Government for realising that this is a big issue and coming up with their modest proposal on camera enforcement, but may we please have some more, because this does not solve the overall problem? Solving the overall problem will help parades of shops and town centres in places where trade is not good. This irritating, over-bureaucratic, over-regulated parking is one reason that people do not bother even to try to park in those areas, because they think they are going to end up with a fine for behaving perfectly reasonably.

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3 Comments

  1. Dan H.
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    You could sort all of this out in one easy bit of legislation, you know. All you have to do is make all fines that a council might levy go not to the council, but to central government. Once you do that, the motive for swingingly high fines evaporates.

    Similarly putting all council officers including the leaders onto the Civil Service payscale, and definitively setting the amounts that may be charged for various enforcement notices (like Council Tax notices) for everyone similarly levels the playing field.

    • BobE
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      All public service should be on one payscale. No public sector pension should pay more then 50k per year. Too much is given in pay and pensions to the public sector. When I hear of 6 figure saleries for TFL for instance or the BBC its insane and should be stopped.

  2. Old Albion
    Posted June 29, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    JR. May i use this article to explain a particular motoring difficulty i and others experience?
    I occasionally ride a motor scooter. When doing so in the London area, it can be a particularly dangerous experience and one needs to keep alert to all that is going on around.
    Bus lanes sometimes permit motorcle entry. The core times for entry can vary and some bus lanes forbid motorcyle use.
    This information is displayed on small blue boards along the route of the bus lane. All very well if the motorcyclist was the only vehicle on the road. But not so easy to read when traffic is heavy and the rider is watching out for lane changing cars, sudden stops or pedestrians trying to cross.
    Personally i have all but given up using the bus lanes, because i cannot always be sure i have permission and do not wish to incur a fine from some hidden camera watching my every move.
    Surely a consistentl rule can be created for two-wheeled vehicles and bus lane use? Remove the complexity and standardise when we may enter bus lanes. It would make things so much safer. But would of course reduce the level of fines. Which i’m sure the council mandarins will be horrified about.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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