HC Deb 20 July 1965 vol 716 cc1537-44

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Harper.]

1.10 a.m.

Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)

I am grateful for having the chance this evening of raising with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport the possibility of extending the use of disc parking in Britain. Usually an Adjournment debate is used to air specific grievances, but on this occasion I hope that both the Parliamentary Secretary and I can agree that this is a subject which will help many millions of people and save their time in future.

Everyone accepts, I think, that there is an increasing need for some control of parking in city and town centres. Some years ago, authorisation was given by the Ministry for disc parking, and it fell to Cheltenham, which I have had the privilege of representing for the last year, and which is, as all hon. Members will know, a most progressive borough, to be the first highway authority to try out the efficacy of disc parking.

Cheltenham is not only a very fine town, but it has a magnificent shopping centre, parks and other amenities in the centre, where, hitherto, there has been considerable congestion. The Highways Committee is a very good team, and some three or four months ago, under Councillor Creswell, it introduced disc parking in the central area.

There are still some people who do not quite know how the scheme works. I have one of the discs with me and, if I may, I will demonstrate. If this were the afternoon instead of being 1.15 a.m., I would set the time of arrival at between 1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m., and parking would be permitted until an hour and a quarter later, at 2.30 p.m.

Incidentally, it has just occurred to me that some adaptation of the device might be useful for curtailing speeches in the House, or even the use of some of the more comfortable chairs in the Library.

The system of disc parking in Cheltenham, which operates from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. except on Sundays and holidays, covers an area about three-quarters of a mile square in the centre of the town. There are parking bays, though they are not measured out as they are for meter parking, so that one can very often get three small cars into an area where, in the case of ordinary meter parking, there could be only two. I understand that there is room in the area for some 1,500 vehicles, which is obviously fewer than would be possible if there were unrestricted parking, as there was previously, but more than if pre-payment meters were installed.

As for the cost to the local ratepayers, there are only four wardens, who have carried out their duties admirably in the three to four months that the system has been working. There are also in Cheltenham "Trust the motorist" car parks at sixpence a day, and they again have worked very satisfactorily to the benefit of the community and with the minimum cost to the ratepayer. As for the discs themselves, I understand that an enterprising oil company produced some 50,000, which are issued by local hotels, by the police, by garages and, as I shall explain in a moment, by the wardens. If the system is adopted more widely in the country, these discs will become standard equipment in all cars.

The result since the introduction of the disc system has been universal praise. To take some of the points which arose, the bus companies describe it as "a marvellous scheme", and the bus drivers have written to the Highway Committee to express their pleasure. The Chamber of Commerce and the commercial travellers, who are probably the most consistent users of parkinig places, welcome it. The unloading bays near the shops have proved adequate. There has been a great fund of good will from the general public, and the police have welcomed it, as have the motoring organisations.

The congestion has been considerably eased in the centre of the town because drivers now find places to park more rapidly and do not have to drive round and round looking for places. There is much less "street furniture", as it is called, which is so disfiguring and so costly.

One enters the marked zone and finds considerably less notices, such as notices about parking on one side of the street or the other, or from such and such hour to another. The growth of traffic restrictions and, consequently, street furniture is one of the most striking things in our cities. I would instance Westminster, in this respect.

There have been so far very few offenders. The drill so far is for the warden to put a disc on a car and leave it there, taking the number of any offender. So far—I speak without prejudice and with no anticipation—no prosecutions have taken place. I understand that all are better mannered and less frustrated and happier as a result of the introduction of the system. One feels that there must be some drawback to it somewhere, but The Times motoring correspondent noted on 25th May that there was none. Indeed, I understand that no complaint has been received from the public.

So, having cut my remarks as brief as possible, I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary what action he is taking or proposes to take to give publicity to this successful scheme. The Ministry has, I understand, a team in Cheltenham examining the scheme, and I hope that when the experiment has been considered it can send out recommendations to the other 1,285 highway authorities in Britain to see whether some at least cannot try out the scheme and to urge them to consider introducing it, allowing always, of course, for local problems.

I think that further experience is needed. Prima facie one feels that this is most useful in towns and cities up to about 100,000 inhabitants. When one gets into larger cities and conurbations it may be necessary to introduce other forms of control, and there may be a bigger need for off-at parking on a larger scale.

I am sure that the Cheltenham authority and its admirable administration, which has done so much to make Cheltenham one of the leading towns in Britain, will be delighted to give the benefit of its experience to other local authorities. I believe strongly in local government. Here is a definite chance for local initiative where Cheltenham once again has given a lead. I am sure that only benefit can result from it if others should try it.

1.18 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

Before dealing with the particular points raised by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker) in a very interesting debate, perhaps I may say something in general about the problem of the control of parking in order to put the situation into perspective.

I think that nearly every intelligent citizen admits the need for control of parking on the streets in towns, but there is wide diversity of opinion and controversy about the way in which it should be controlled and about the severity of the penalties imposed. Especially in London and the big cities, people are now getting used to stringent restrictions on parking as a normal part of city life, but in smaller towns lack of space still irritates people and they accept controls in a grudging way. In very small towns and villages, many people still regard street parking control as necessary for others but not for themselves. These different attitudes reflect the real problem which we in the Ministry of Transport and local highway authorities have to face: how much control is necessary and suitable to a particular place?

The fundamental point is that the relationship between available parking space in a town and the effective demand for parking space by vehicle owners governs not only people's attitudes to the controls which are imposed but also the type of controls which ought to be chosen to suit particular local circumstances, and these may vary considerably from place to place.

Therefore, in brief, while the need for control is universal and, I think, is becoming more and more universally accepted, it does not necessarily mean that uniformity of parking controls can be imposed: we should try to develop the kind of controls which are suitable to the place. Those responsible, especially on local highway authorities, should apply their minds to their own local cirsumstances and try to develop the best controls to suit the local needs.

Parking can be controlled, of course, in a number of ways. It can be controlled simply by erecting "No waiting" signs or by painting lines on kerbs as proposed and laid down by the Department I represent. This method is very clear but not very subtle, of course. It will not suffice for very complex town centres. As soon as signs begin to cramp people's activities they also begin to be disregarded, and that is a factor, of which we are very well aware, which brings the law into disrepute, and I am very sorry to say it has brought it into disrepute in this respect on quite a wide scale.

At the other extreme we have the system of parking meters, which ration space for parking effectively by means of time limits and by means of charges. People cannot easily disregard this form of mechanical control, but the difficulty for those responsible lies in getting people to accept meters in the first place; especially is it a difficulty for the members of local highway authorities. People, we find, have many objections to meters. They find meters are ugly; they find that they symbolise regimentation; they are regarded as a method of rationing by the purse. If the objections to parking meters can be classified under the heading of hatred, the feelings about signs and kerb markings which are ineffective can be classified under the heading of contempt.

One might, I suppose, make out a case for parking discs by saying that they remove the grounds for contempt without necessarily arousing hatred. Parking discs are a sort of gentleman's agreement whereby the motorist erects his own sign in his own car and applies the general rule on time limits to his own individual movements. There are many attractions in this form of disc parking control. Disc parking control reduces the need for unsightly street furniture, in the phraseology of the hon. Member for Cheltenham. It imposes a discipline, but through co-operation on the part of the motorist himself. It rations space, but only does it by time limitation and not by the purse. There is no payment involved.

The limitations of the disc control method of dealing with car parking can best be appreciated in terms of the amount of enforcement effort that is needed to obtain good results. In a word, the cost both in money and in public patience to all those who are involved in a town like Cheltenham.

The first prong in street parking control is the time limit on car parking itself. That clears the long-term car parker, usually the car commuter, off the streets and leaves room for the short-term parker, for example, the shopper, the business caller, the commercial traveller, the sightseer, the tourist, and so on. A time limit is all that a disc can impose. That is the method of control, and time limits alone are effective only while there is, by and large, enough space for everyone who wants to park in the town. That is an important factor for all towns which are going to consider the question of disc parking to remember. As soon as the demand for car parking space rises to the point at which people have to tour round and round looking for space, time limits become very irksome, and in such circumstances the parking discs will tend to be disregarded, in the same way, I am afraid, as signs and kerb markings are disregarded today.

At this point the efficacy of the parking disc system will depend on its enforcement by the attendants, whether they are wardens or the police. As soon as enforcement becomes the mainstay of a control system, two things tend to happen: the cost rises because more manpower has to be employed in supervision and in prosecutions, and the atmosphere of co-operation, which I know has been a very important part of the Cheltenham scheme, between the motorist and the authorities tends to diminish.

The Ministry's view is that parking meters, which combine the use of the price mechanism with time limits and make supervision physically easier for attendants and wardens, are the most appropriate form for towns in which it is clear that the demand for parking presses very heavily on available space. In other words, in towns in which there is an excess demand for car parking space it is necessary for some deterrent to be introduced in the form of pricing. But we know that there are many towns in the country in which that state of affairs does not exist, but in which some form of parking control is nevertheless necessary. For those which have not reached the position where there is this excess demand, parking discs may well present the most advantageous solution to the problem.

I am very glad to hear from the hon. Member for Cheltenham—and what he has said is borne out by all the evidence that we have in the Ministry—that the disc parking system inaugurated by my noble Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary some time ago is developing in such a happy and successful way. We are extremely pleased to hear that. Cheltenham is fortunate in having the right circumstances for a parking disc scheme, with adequate off-street parking and wide streets suitable for parking outside the disc zone.

Cheltenham, as the hon. Member can rightly claim, is the first authority to use discs, although as long ago as 1961 the Department which I represent invited any local authorities who were interested in parking discs to consult it about the possibilities of the system, which is widely used on the Continent of Europe. I understand that as a result of Cheltenham's initiative about 20 other local authorities have already approached Cheltenham to discover details of the scheme. Such is the result of putting a project actually on the ground, as compared with putting it on paper in a Ministry circular. We shall certainly be ready to consider further proposals from any authorities who wish to operate parking disc schemes, and we shall consider them on their merits in relation to local circumstances, as the Ministry did in the case of Cheltenham.

I conclude this agreeable Adjournment debate by thanking Cheltenham for the agreement which it has expressed to co-operate with us in the Ministry in making a detailed survey of the working of this scheme and expressing the hope that this little debate will give some useful publicity to disc parking in general and to the very useful little car attachments that they make in Cheltenham, which I understand are freely available not only to those who live there but those who visit the town.

I hope that Cheltenham's success, in particular, will also give publicity to the fact that the Ministry will consider favourably applications by any local authorities who wish to copy Cheltenham. We hope that they will achieve the same success.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to Two o'clock.