Parliament has woken up to the bad habits of some private sector car parks. MPs want a limit on fines and clamping when people make mistakes in a private car park, or when they try it on and seek to avoid payment. Let’s hope the new rules work.
Most of the parking problems I encounter for constituents relate not to private sector car parks on someone else’s land, but to public sector car parks on the public’s land. Car parking should be a public service. It has been turned into a branch of the criminal law, in order to provide a steady stream of public revenue from fines and charges.
Of course Councils need to keep the highways free flowing. Providing more off street car parks is a good way to do this. Where on street parking is allowed, it should be organised to avoid blocking the highway. Where people ignore the parking areas and decide selfishly to block a road or a driveway, I have no problem with enforcement being tough.
Increasingly Councils impose more complex rules and higher charges on parking in designated places on and off highway just for the sake of it. There is a current passion in many places to narrow roads, removing parking places at off peak times in the process. There is a growing love of complexity, so an individual needs to study the rules carefully before being sure that they can park in a designated place at a particular time on a particular day.
Sometimes the rules are unclear about bank holidays, or Sundays. Sometimes there are several different rules applying to on street spaces on the same stretch of street. Often there are no regular and clearly expressed signs to tell you the hours that apply to single yellow line prohibitions on parking. Any misunderstanding can lead to a large fine and even to clamping or tow away, when the car is parked in what is a parking place for some of the time, showing it is not any great threat or impediment to the highway.
Off street car parks can make life difficult for shoppers. Some Council car parks make you predict in advance how long you wish to park for, and to buy that amount of time when you leave the vehicle. This can put you under pressure in the shopping centre, if it turns out to be more time consuming to find what you want to buy, or if there are crowds and queues. Allowing you to purchase more time when you return, or requesting payment only on return, would help the shopper, and help promote the shops.
Having the right change can also be an issue. Now some car parks charge so much for the time you need, you have to carry a pocket full of change. Not all car park pay machines take all coins, making an additional hazard for you.
Councils usually say they want to promote their local shopping centre. They should start by reviewing their car parks. They should cut the charges, where they are too high. They should make the rules easier. They should allow people to overrun their original time and pay the extra for a reasonable extension. Free parking in Council car parks at off peak times and to encourage use of the local shops could be a welcome shot in the arm for ailing High Streets.
It is high time Councils remembered that Council car parks, on and off street, should be public services that assist the public. They are on public land, and should be run for us the public. Westminster Council would be wise to think again about its latest plans, which are encountering plenty of opposition.