Pickles, Parking and Public Consultation

Published 2013-09-27 at 12:33

I had been stalling on inaugurating this blog until I could finish building the rest of the site around it, but the lovely Eric Pickles MP annoyed me this morning and so, here we are.

Brought to my attention first by @peterwalker99, reported on the BBC (and elsewhere) and press-released on the DCLG website, Pickles has been opening his mouth and stepping outside his remit (again) and into matters of transport. You see, the poor motorist is being battered by over-zealous local authorities that have been busy actually enforcing the rules which have existed in the UK for about 40 years, rather than just ignoring them and letting the lovely motorist park wherever the hell they feel like. This will not stand.

What irks me about this is not simply Pickles flapping on about something that he knows little about in an effort to woo the Daily Mail voter. No, it's the implicit assumption that the parking restrictions that are there are unnecessary and that somehow they happened without anybody having a say. This is rubbish so I present here the detail of how parking restrictions happen. It's wordy, I apologise, but save putting a random picture of a parking meter, this is a necessity.

A Recipe for Parking

First, a local authority (LA), member(s) of the public, emergency service(s) or business(es) identify a problem. Alternatively, a wider scheme may be being implemented and that serves as a good opportunity to leverage current contracts and do everything at once and save the public money. Either way, an issue is identified. This may relate to the simple blocking of the road by vehicles, the usual need to ration the shortfall in space vs demand in an urban area, a need to prioritise bus (or cycle) flow or loading over parking, or sometimes (and something often ignored) the need to maintain footway access for the disabled (or parents with buggies) who can't get past when the footway is blocked by vehicles. This is an obvious summary, things are usually more intertwined thanthis but the point is clear, parking restrictions are a necessary evil and flow from the issues created by vehicles, they do not pre-date them.

Next, with brief in hand, the parking department of the LA and/or appointed traffic consultants design a scheme that maximises the availability of parking whilst achieving the aims of the LA and interested parties. The brief is not concocted by LA officers in a vacuum, at the very least it must go to a committee (of elected Councillors) before they would get the authority to spend on such a scheme design.

Designs are made according to a wide range of regulations, guidance and best practice (non-exhaustive links). Regulations and guidance are highly specific and have evolved over the last 40 years necessarily. If you get a parking ticket you disagree with, these documents are your salvation. The 1% appeals that the Local Government Association refer to in the BBC article are likely these sorts of edge/error cases, and it is just this sort of thing that keeps the LA on its toes and makes sure that parking arrangements actually conform to the law. If you notice something that doesn't comply, tell the LA about it. You can be sure they'll fix it quickly.

Anyway, the draft scheme (or potentially scheme options) then goes to public statutory consultation. In this process the local residents, businesses, statutory consultees (e.g. fire service, police etc.) are specifically consulted. Responses are received and scheme changes are made in combination with the officers, (potentially consultants) and interested committees and others.

This process then iterates until the project's authorising committee is happy to authorise the work be let and the project go ahead. So that's it then, someone goes and paints the lines and we're done? Hahaha, no. You've not done this before have you?

Traffic Orders

What I haven't mentioned is the concept of a Traffic Order. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 empowers the relevant authority to make traffic regulation orders (TROs) and various parts of the regulations being applied require them before the signage or markings can be used. In short, they provide the legal backing for the use of the regulations. One of the heaviest regulated parts being that of parking and access restrictions.

So, the officers, scheme consultants and/or the legal department of the LA, draft a TRO which provides the legal backing to the proposed and now agreed upon regulations to be implemented. This then goes to a separate public consultation as defined by the The Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England) Regulations 2012. Formerly, there was a compulsion to publish in the local paper, though this changed in the 2012 revision of these regulations to enable more appropriate ways of advertising (though the local paper publishing is still likely to continue). In this process the local residents, businesses, statutory consultees (e.g. fire service, police etc.) are specifically consulted and the proposal is advertised on street.

Note that this consultation is over and above the consultation of the wider scheme being implemented. If it is a small change, then maybe there is no wider scheme but there is always a traffic order and that must always be consulted upon. So, at the very least, this consultation will always occur.

Clearly then, those with an immediate concern as to the local regulations are consulted. Any and all objections raised are considered by the officers (this is a statutory requirement incumbent on them), acted on where possible and presented to the LA's elected parking committee. Note the oversight here (again) by elected persons. Officers do not have the power to ride roughshod over the electorate. If the proposals are too onerous, provisions exist which can force a public enquiry so don't be thinking the LA has carte blanche to begin with. Similarly, even if a scheme is implemented not in compliance with the regulations, then this can be quashed in court, and any member of the public can force that to happen, if they are right.

Of course, someone will be reading this complaining, "I wasn't consulted because I don't live there and I didn't see the signs for the 3+ weeks of consultation and and and...", the excuses are normally endless but if this is you, you've probably missed the point. If you're not local then the parking policy exists to protect the area from people like you; the locals will have a different view. Given it usually happens as part of a larger scheme, the shape of a TRO consultation is normally focussed on the minutiae of the Order, rather than the principle. Though a scheme without a TRO cannot be enforced and is unlawful for the LA to implement, so it is still a very important consultation.

If, on the other hand you are a local, and you missed the signs, the (probable) letter through your door etc., well then perhaps you have yourself to blame? At this point, you'll have had at least 1 consultation, probably 2 and maybe many more as larger schemes are usually subject to informal consultation, occur under the auspices of a Local Plan and that itself will have had a long and onerous consultation and iteration process.

Ok then. So all that's happened, now what? Well, the objections are taken, considered by the officers, presented to the (elected) committee and changes made as needed. If changes are substantial (or increase the level of restriction in any way) then the TRO must be re-advertised and consulted upon. Don't be thinking this is a quick process either; the need to iterate means that even for a non-controversial TRO, the process will be expected to take 3 to 6 months. For a more detailed one, e.g. for area parking controls, it can take upwards of 2 years.

It must be underlined that a committee formed of elected councillors has oversight of this process in the LA (as noted above again and again both in terms of cost and principle) and they are directly accountable to the public, through the ballot box and of course, if you simply talk to them.

Finally, once all this process is completed, the TRO can be "made" by the LA which involves being signed and sealed by the appointed legal representative. Work goes ahead on the street and a parking restriction is born.

The Pickles Problem

Right, so that very verbose diatribe explains the rough process for a parking traffic regulation order. Why then, when he didn't even talk about the restrictions themselves, were Pickles' comments so monumentally silly? Ignoring for a moment that this is a local issue which he is trying to dictate from the centre under the auspices of "localism" and outside his department with logic that is making my eyes hurt, his grievance is today with over-zealous enforcement. Or, as it is otherwise known, enforcement.

You see, a law without enforcement is pointless. Even the simplest TRO will cost a few thousand pounds to implement. It is therefore made for a reason. Why would a LA expend any effort making TROs that it was not going to enforce – in fact, making an unenforceable TRO would not be done in the first place under legal advice if nothing else – when it could be spending money on something else?

Conversely, why should the motorist expect that parking is not going to be enforced? If restrictions are not going to be enforced, they should not be there. There are plenty of places where there are no restrictions. There may well be places where restrictions are no longer fit for purpose (and that's a different problem), but there's never any reason they shouldn't be enforced. What's remarkable is that people are often up front demanding enforcement where they live but decrying it where they want to go. You can't have it both ways, there's simply too many cars and not enough space. It has to be rationed. This can be by first come first serve and/or by pricing; the same way that everything else in the western world works.

If restrictions can be enforced by CCTV, cheaper and more effectively than on the ground, then that is what should happen and indeed the LA is required to as part of it's drive to get best value for public money. If the LA happens to make more money in the process, then that's more money for improving parking conditions, subsidising buses, fixing potholes and improving 'bikeability' (for example). The law in fact stipulates the hypothecation of parking monies to transport-related things (RTRA 1984 S55) so it's not like the LA can use parking to subsidise something unrelated like adult social care or one or more of the other things Daily Mail readers object so strongly to.

So in summary, Pickles, you know not of what you speak. Please leave well alone.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope to write more (though perhaps more succinctly in future).