It must be Conference time – I heard some Conservative announcements

It was good to receive an email this week from the Department to say they were removing the M4 bus lane. Soon the broadcasts were alive with the message that the war on the motorist was ended.

I welcome the news about the bus lane. There should be no place for Zil lanes in modern Britain. Mr Blair’s famous use of the lane summed up all many of us disliked about it.

Cancelling it does not, however, restore a sense of proportion into our use of the car. Doing so requires not just changes at the Department of Transport, but also in many Town Halls and County Halls around the country. We need leaders who recognise that 86% of our passenger and goods travel is by road, and who understand that not many people can go shopping on the train or ride a cycle to work.

Of course national and local government has to regulate road traffic for safety reasons. Of course when we are pedestrians or at home in our residences we expect traffic to be properly shepherded so it does not harm or annoy us. Much of the traffic management we now experience goes well beyond that, making the life of the motorist difficult and unpleasant.

Car parking is a case in point. Making car parking more readily available is a good idea, not a wicked one. If you can find cheap or free parking near to your destination, and find it easily, it removes traffic from circulation going round and round trying to find a parking space. If you want a leisurely shop, it takes the panic out from realising that if you get delayed for five more minutes at the till you will be wheel clamped and face a huge fine. If there is enough car parking provided with modern housing, it avoids cars blocking side roads and neighbours drives.

Many politicians say they want more town centre shopping and less shopping at the mega stores on the by pass. One of the main reasons people prefer the out of town store is they can drive straight there and park for free outside the shop. They can park for as long as they need to do the shopping, and can put any heavy items purchased straight into the boot of the car. Going into the town centre means running the gauntlet of a whole series of different speed limits, chicanes, one way roads and a welter of signs with orders you have to obey, followed by study of the complex and detailed regulations over whether you can park and if so for how long and what cost. One car park is Wokingham is notorious for catching people out, as they park in the private part of a public car park, only to get wheel clamped and fined for doing so. Councils seem to delight in threatening their Council tax payers with heavy fines should they overstay their time in a public car park by a few minutes. Why not just ask them to pay for the extra time?

Other politicians say we should tax people for workplace car parking, or make employers charge. Many people drive to work because it is the only way to get there on time. Employees with children of school age may need to drive the children to school first and then drive on to work. There are often no buses to complete the complex journeys the school and work run takes, or no combination of buses that allow you to travel in a realistic time. At work it makes sense to allow the employee to park near the office for free. The employer can afford that, but may not be able to afford car park charges and taxes that some now wish to impose.

One of the main reasons many people in the UK do not feel local and national governement has been on their side in recent years is the way the motorist has been hounded. There are too many rules and regulations that do not go to heart of safety but are for other purposes. The rules are often difficult to grasp and comply with. Some straghtforward rules to prevent accidents are most welcome. The current jungle of traffic mismanagement will take more than the abolition of the M4 bus lane. It is nonetheless a welcome sign of better things to come.


  1. P H
    October 3, 2010

    Spot on once again contrary to the BBC's and Green Religion's view of the world cars can be very efficient. Unlike buses they go directly from A to B at the times required they carry goods and can drop others off on route and change routes if needed part way. Also they can do so at perhaps 3.48 in the morning as needed when no one else is going.

    Buses on the other hand are large cumbersome, stop every few hundred yards, take indirect routes and have average occupancies, depot to depot over the day, often as low as 8. They congest the roads and hold up others, what is actually green about them?

    Bikes a great favourite of the BBC (and Boris) are actually fuelled by addition food intake. They may be fun and good exercise but food production (meat in particular) its packaging, chilling transport and waste is very energy intensive. Actually this often make a small full car far preferable on CO2 terms. Bike are also statistically rather more dangerous, to the user, than drink driving so please take care when using them.

    If bikes are really as efficient as the Greens seem to think we clearly need to develop a steak, chips and claret car so car can emulate their efficient fuel use.

    I think not.

  2. JohnnyNorfolk
    October 3, 2010

    I am sure this is just how the vast majority of people feel. Yet the persicution goes on. North Norfolk ( Liberel) charges for car parking at all its car parks. Breckland ( Conservative ) car parking is free, and more of it guess which I shop at.

  3. English Pensioner
    October 3, 2010

    It is possible to see typical council planning in our local schools. When my children were young, they could walk to school, healthy, and, of course, green. To aid this process, the council closed all the smaller schools and enlarged others, so that there are now fewer, bigger, schools, which, on average, must be further from home. Hence fewer children walk, this generates more traffic and the parents of many of the rest decide that it is now unsafe for them to walk. Result, obesity and more pollution. Increased traffic congestion, not only effecting the schools, but for several miles around. What's wrong with the specialist teachers travelling between a number of the old smaller schools?
    This is an obvious example of government "planning", where one department makes a saving, only to find it costs another far more. It is typical of many other areas such as the. Post Offices where government departments make a "saving" by removing, or discouraging payment through the Post Office, so that without the commission they either need a subsidy, or have to close.
    We are governed by the "Law of Unexpected Consequences" in this country, simply because no government of recent years has looked beyond the next election. I'll be very happy if this government proves to be different, but I'm not holding my breath!

  4. Alan Jutson
    October 3, 2010

    Part 1.
    Agree with many of your points John, but the problem has been caused in many ways by Politicians and Local Councils.

    I return to my comment made earlier this year, after returning from a two week holiday in France. Most local Towns had very few parking restrictions, had FREE CAR PARKS, did not have traffic wardens, speed humps and the like.

    Reason: To encourage use of the Town for its Shops, Bars and Restaurants.

    The very idea of having to pay in advance and having to guess the period of time when you initially park the car, makes you think twice about going in the first place. Given you have to pay in advance for a fixed period, means that you have to return before that fixed period to avoid a fine, hence the charge is not £1.00 per hour it is in fact more than that.

    1. Rose
      October 6, 2010

      Take a country with our density of population for a fair comparison. And the number of cars per house.

  5. Alan Jutson
    October 3, 2010

    Part 2
    On a recent Hoilday in Cornwall The Natioanal Trust were charging £3.50 Minimum charge, Pay in advance, no matter how long you stayed, in most of their Car Parks.

    Given that many Car Parks were at small Coves which we had never visited before, we did not know how long we would be visiting that site, 10 mins (for a quick look ) or 1-2 hours or more for longer exploration.

    Result: We often parked further away for free, and walked (time no object on holiday) or if not possible moved to another venue.

    Result many small cafe's did not get a chance of our business when time was restricted. Time managed Parking (pay as you leave) would have illiminated this

    Councils and the like are driving people out of Towns to Centres were Car Parking is free, this leaves empty shops and less income from Commercial Rates.

  6. Johnny Williams
    October 3, 2010

    In the Scottish Borders, where I have lived for a year, I have yet to encounter charges or a parking meter. The NHS Hospital parking is free, parking is free in Kelso too, close to where we live. Its free at all the main towns around us and I only consider such things now in England or in the big Scottish Cities

    It is so incredibly relaxing to simply drive, find a spot and park…….

    1. Rose
      October 6, 2010

      Again, a much smaller population.

  7. P H
    October 3, 2010

    Other than sensibly getting rid of the M4 bus lane what were these conservative announcements I heard none.

    If they start taxing people for work place parking and road then it will not be long before taxes in total exceed 100% of earnings (less the costs of actually going to work).
    They already do for many in the years they move home (about every 7 years) with say a £30,000 stamp duty bill each time in addition to NI/ Income Tax and Council Tax. I thought they wanted to have an incentive to work.

  8. Matt
    October 3, 2010

    A better argument on car park charges is to take the public sector out of provision altogether. Then the market will provide. You seem to think there have been numerous new laws and regulations brought in to make motoring more difficult – what are these, I can't think of any in the last decade. The real problem with motoring is too much demand in a short time period. Successive governments have failed to be bold with transport in terms of privatising it. So far this government is going backwards on transport. The soundbite "ending the war on motorists" deflects attention from the fact that nothing is happening.

    1. Rose
      October 4, 2010

      Yes, Matt, if the correct market rate is charged, a carpark should never be more than two thirds full. So why are our streets crammed with parked cars, bumper to bumper, so no-one can get on or off the pavement, while multi-storeys are often empty? Because pay and display parking run by councils is over-subsidised. It shouldn't be subsidised at all, nor should it be the business of local government to provide it. Local government doesn't subsidise the car, or the petrol, or the maintenance, nor does it sell the cars, or the petrol, so why should it provide the parking? If people can afford to buy and run a car, they can also afford to pay privately to store it out of everyone elses's way. A private car should not be subsidised by the council tax payer, nor should private cars be allowed to block the public highway.

  9. Alan Wheatley
    October 3, 2010

    One change in recent years that motorists encounter ever more frequently is a 50mph speed limit on roads where previously the national speed limit had applied. I fail to see the benefit, bearing in mind that it is a "limit" not a prescription as to what speed to drive.

    We know that too high a speed for the circumstances is dangerous, but to reduce a limit by 10mph in the belief that unsafe speeds will be reduced is not credible. For there to be any justification it would have to be shown that vehicle travelling at between 50 and 60 had been a contributory factor to collisions, and I have never heard such an argument advanced.

    There are costs involved. There is the capital cost of undertaking the organisational and legislative requirements for changing the limit and for procuring and installing the extra signs. And there is the running cost of maintaining the extra signs. Is this where we want limited local authority resources to be deployed? I think it is far more to do with being seen to be doing something and pandering anti-motorist lobby, rather than achieving anything worthwhile.

  10. Derek Buxton
    October 3, 2010

    Very well said. What is forgotten is that the rot started in the fifties, when "zoning" raised it's ugly head. Prior to that we had an excellent public transport system, cheap and regular. Then houses sprung up way out of town as older houses were pulled down, but the transport could not adapt. People bought cars, it was the only way to get to work on time. Since then it has been downhill all the way.
    I noticed a report that the town that had made all streets 20mph had more accidents than before..

  11. Robert Taggart
    October 3, 2010

    Just a thought … if all the efforts of this and the last government to force us scroungers into work come to fruition… who will provide us with all the additional infrastructure to make that possible ? By choosing to 'sit it out' we are not contributing to the daily grind !

  12. Mike Stallard
    October 3, 2010

    I love trains and would dearly love a tram service here in Wisbech to connect us with British Rail.
    But no, it is impossible. An imaginative bus track proved beyond Cambridgeshire CC's capabilities. Car parking in the town centre is also beyond their capabilities. So we go to shop in King's Lynn or Peterborough on our free bus passes.
    There are just too many people in this tiny sliver of these islands and the government of all stripes is absolutely useless. As you say, Tescos understands us much better than they do. Much better.

  13. Rose
    October 3, 2010

    Maybe it is different in Wokingham but here in our city the car is the great oppressor. The streets are just not made for it, yet more and more are crammed in every year, with students now expecting to drive everywhere too. The lovely old pavements are being completely destroyed by people driving and parking on them, and the pollution and noise is terrible. People say they would bike or walk were it not for the dangerous and unpleasant traffic. Few children are allowed to walk or bike to school. Theyare strapped in and driven. So when they grow up they get cars too. Yet in London they are all walking or bicycling and looking very fit on it. They can hear the birds sing too, and their footsteps. The streets look much better cared for now everyone is walking. Shopping is easy on a bike if the roads are safe.

  14. Rose
    October 3, 2010

    We seem to be two nations here: you and your fellow suburban motorists, and we poor downtrodden provincial citydwellers. There must be a better way than the present war between the two groups. Road rage is a nasty thing to encounter when on a bike or walking, as the motorist vents his fury on the weaker road user. Yet the Queen's Highway belongs to us all. We all have a right to use it. How did it get so unbalanced? Because people are allowed to park in the street and clog it up. Driving door to door will always win over public transport as long as people are allowed to do that, but they are furring up their own arteries of transport and then taking it out on the rest of us. Traffic ruins many a house too, as people have to retreat to the back of it, no longer able to hear each other in the front rooms.

    1. David Julian Price
      October 4, 2010

      Having had a cyclist in Bristol attempt to kick my car side door in because I had the temerity to overtake him, as he rode in the middle of the road up Park Street at 5mph (causing a huge traffic jam), I would suggest it is not only motorists who suffer from rage. The same cyclist then duly ran a red light at the top of the hill and nearly mowed down a pedestrian…

      In truth, no one is perfect and the 'holier than thou' stance taken by so many cyclists is absurd, pious and totally bizarre. In other countries, small things get out of the way of big things (it's called Darwinian self-preservation) and no one regards it as an affront to their rights/lifestyle/politics, or whatever. A bicyclist in Tianenmen Square in Beijing (where I went recently) would not argue with a bus.

      Here though, there's some kind of weird 'urban guerilla' attitude of cyclists in cities that I just can't fathom. (some? ed)Cyclists all seem to have huge chips on their shoulders and seem to be constantly outraged by the bad driving of cars, whilst themselves frequently (troubling-ed) pedestrians. They have an attitude that is just plain rotten, and I can't for the life of me understand why.

      I walk most places, cycle sometimes (my hobby), ride a motorbike and drive a car. I have experienced awful examples of every one of these groups. It's called human life; we shouldn't exclusvely persecute the motorist as result. When cyclists pay road tax, have riding tests and have to have compulsory third party insurance and a bike safety check, that's when they can start sharing the streets on an equal basis.

      1. Rose
        October 6, 2010

        Bicyclists aren't holier than thou, just a lot more vulnerable. What happened to chivalry? The strong used to give way to the weak, on principle. They were brought up to do that and it was called civilization. It would be good to get it back under the gentler more polite administration we have now. Bicyclists should give way to pedestrians, just as motorists should to bicyclists. And everyone should give way to the very old or the very young – even if they aren't paying tax.

        Gondolas have to give way to motor boats now on the Grand Canal, and, as you say, bicycles are no longer respected in China. It is very dangerous for bicyclists in Spain, even worse in Portugal, and woe betide anyone on a donkey. Is that progress? In Italy it is different: nuns, priests, and women in dresses are able to bicycle side by side without being bullied, often holding umbrellas as well. They don't wear helmets or battle dress of any kind. The motorists just slow down and give them a wide berth. But then life in Italy is civlized in many ways. Perhaps it is their climate, or their diet, or the way their mothers bring them up.

      2. Rose
        October 6, 2010

        David, it must have been alarming and unpleasant for you in Bristol's Park St. As it is the main shopping street in Bristol would it be better if they had bike lanes at the side instead of parked cars? Then the two way traffic of lorries, buses, cars, and bikes would not all have to pass through such a narrow central channel getting on each other's nerves. With such a very steep hill it must be even more dangerous and polluted than usual.

  15. Jonathan
    October 3, 2010

    Wokingham DC need to remember that the carparks do not belong to them, they manage them for us and business. WDC still issues tickets based on court orders which are £80 and seem too keen to fine people; this neither helps individuals or business. If they could levy a local sales tax they may feel differently about driving customers to out of town shopping centres.

  16. BrianSJ
    October 3, 2010 wold seem to indicate that getting rid of the M4 bus lane is just cheap gesture politics.

  17. Dave Richardson
    October 4, 2010

    I agree with this article, especially the point about the difficulties of town centre parking compared to out-of-town shopping. The best way for any town centre struggling with the recession is to introduce free parking.

  18. Pete soakel
    October 4, 2010

    In my local park, the council have introduced a cycle lane running the opposite direction to the main one way through road- a great improvement for cyclists except for the fact that car users just park in it, stupidly assuming that it is a parking bay, thereby illustrating the uphill struggle we face in this country when it comes to introducing traffic schemes.

  19. Rose
    October 5, 2010

    Too many bicycle lanes are just the result of councils tinkering about with grant money for bicycling and not really getting down to cracking the problem of dangerous traffic imbalance as London has. The Boris bike is really working because they have got down to the detail and made it work.They looked at where the French were going wrong: so in London for example they move thousands of bikes to the main stations in rush hours to make sure they are where they are needed. In every other side street there seem to be Boris bikes with business men getting on or off them. They look a lot fitter and happier for it, and probably make better decisions than their carbound contemporaries. David Cameron always looked a lot fitter to make decisions than GB. If only he could bicycle into work every day now. Provincial councils need to be a lot more interested in the question of enticing people out of their cars, not just providing token lanes for a few feet here and there where they aren't needed and not where they are. Boris has shown the way and it works.

  20. APL
    October 5, 2010

    JR: "There should be no place for Zil lanes in modern Britain."

    The phrase 'modern Britian' must be irredemably contaminated by the last administration.

    And that reminds me Cameron on the radio this morning, 'and I say to people' a line STRAIGHT FROM THE BLAIR LIEBOOK.

    JR: "It must be Conference time – I heard some Conservative announcements"

    It is tradgic, the only time you expect to hear Conservative points of view is at the conference and just before an election.

  21. John
    October 6, 2010

    "Free parking" isn't free at all, since public car parks cost money to build and maintain. They are actually "subsidised car parks" paid for by all council taxpayers even those who don't drive a car and so never use them.

    Many of the traffic management schemes John Redwood objects to weren't introduced in some malign desire to inflict a "war on the motorist", but rather to curb the dominance of the car in our crowded towns and cities, and make walking and cycling safer and more attractive, and public transport more reliable.

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