HL Deb 04 April 1967 vol 281 cc909-15

5.53 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Shepherd.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Extension of powers of local authorities in connection with provision of off-street parking places]:


I have to inform your Lordships that no Amendments have been set down for this Bill. The question, therefore, is that I report this Bill, without amendment, to the House.


May I make a few comments on Clause 1? It will be within the recollection of the Committee that on the Second Reading of this Bill, as we had already had a long day discussing the Road Safety Bill, we took this Bill formally so that we might raise such matters as arise on this Bill, on the Motion that Clause 1 stand part. As there are only two clauses, and the whole business is contained in the first clause, it will not take very long.

The purpose of the Bill is to remove the time limit of five years which was put in the 1960 Act when local authorities were given the power to develop sites comprehensively for making off-street car parks, and for other purposes. My right honourable friend Mr. Marples, when he was Minister of Transport, inserted this safeguard, I think rightly, because it is objectionable in principle that local authorities should use ratepayers' money to develop sites and to finance trading operations which may be in competition with the ratepayer himself. Therefore it was thought necessary to limit the experimental period in order to show whether or not, in practice, local authorities used this power unfairly.

In the event, experience has proved that there has been no injurious effect at all. In fact, my own impression is that the danger has been quite the reverse. Local authorities are not getting on fast enough with the provision of off-street parking spaces, and my remarks will be directed chiefly to that point, on which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be able to give an answer. It is, of course, common knowledge to your Lordships that there is a shortage of parking spaces in almost every town of any size in the country. This is to the inconvenience of everybody, and it is often also against the interests of road safety and traffic flow, because the result is, naturally, excessive on-street parking.

There are two questions which I think need to be answered. First, why are local authorities so slow in providing more parking spaces? And I suppose it is fair to ask also why private garages do not spring up to meet the need. Here I must turn to the integral part of off-street parking spaces which is, of course, the provision of on-street parking control by parking meter schemes, or something similar, because, quite obviously, no motorist will pay to park his car in an off-street car park so long as he can park it "for free" on the street. Here is the answer why private garages do not spring up. Some have tried this, and painfully they have learned that the uncertainty about local authorities' introducing parking schemes is so great that private business people who erect an off-street garage are likely to stand and look at it standing empty for years before anything happens. In other words, they simply cannot afford to do it.

I should like to ask the noble Lord what is the view of the Government in this matter. It is a serious point. Over the past few years we have seen the benefit of parking meter schemes in the centre of London. In my judgment they have been of tremendous benefit. The short-term parker can leave his, or her, car in the middle of London, and this is most convenient. It costs more in the middle of London, but that is only right, because there will be a quicker turnover; and the result is that there is somewhere one can leave a car for a short time. At the same time, the traffic flow is greatly improved and, what is probably most important of all, the bus flow is kept properly moving. London Transport complain most bitterly about what they call the "glue pot ring". This is the ring outside the parking meter area in the centre where there is no parking control and cars simply clutter the streets, including the main traffic arteries, and buses lose as much as an hour in their schedule simply because they cannot get through the congested highways.

Why are the G.L.C. not getting on with the scheme they propounded over a year ago, that they would make a great extension to 40 square miles, to cover the "glue pot ring"? I had hoped to see parking meters springing up all over the area, properly controlled, and at the same time the building of off-street car parks. I warned the noble Lord that I was going to ask him these questions, and I hope that he will be able to tell us something about this point. I come back to the Bill and ask him this question. When we have agreed this Bill, which is obviously right, what prospect is there that local authorities will build off-street car parks?—because this is really what we wish to see. I suppose it would not be unfair if at the same time I were to ask him whether he would give local authorities a little encouragement by removing the nonsensical income tax liability from the parking meter income. I am sorry to say that this was a mistaken heritage which my Government left with him. Will he not use his influence to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to remove parking meter income tax liability so that local authorities might get on with this?

I have one further point. When a local authority is encouraged to use a site for an off-street car park, I would suggest that it is often a sounder proposition for them to let it at an economic rent to private management who will then have all the problems, which are quite considerable, of profitably operating an off-street car park. In that way the ratepayers may very well be better off at the end of the day by receiving economic rent from the site; and maybe the users will be better served because the key of management is usually—not always, but usually—in better hands when somebody's livelihood depends upon it. I have noticed this practice in the United States. It is a quite common practice, and on the whole it seems to benefit all concerned.

May I conclude by saying that I certainly support the Bill. I am sure it is right that the time limit should be removed. Far from there being any danger of local authorities exploiting this advantage of private enterprise, they have been doing nothing at all. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell your Lordships that the Government are going to do something to encourage them to get on with building more off-street parking places.

6.03 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, first of all for having given me notice of some of the points he intended to raise, and also for giving me an opportunity to explain a little more fully than I did on the Second Reading the operation of the Act which this Bill, when it is passed, will revive. The clear fact, of course, is that congestion, particularly in our main cities, arises through the explosion—if one might use the phrase—of car ownership. That is something to be welcomed, particularly if it can be kept under some degree of control. But really the problem arises because the roads that we have inherited are roads that no planner in his senses would have ever put on paper. I think it will also be recognised that you cannot alter the roads quickly. In fact we all know that even to make a minor by-pass requires a good deal of time. I will come on to that point, because it is to a certain extent one of the problems of the local authorities in the provision of off-street parking and also the provision of parking meters.

Traffic management is a young science. Experts travel the world seeing each other's problems, none of them really being able to find the right solution. In fact one wonders—and I think this is something that must be considered—whether it is right and proper that one should suddenly change the whole aspect of the city and all the ancient attractions the city may have, merely to provide some new major road through the city. These are all aspects that must be considered. Clearly we have to look at traffic management as a science, and we are learning all the time. The fact is that this particular power has proved very useful. As the noble Lord knows, local authorities are able to provide the car park by itself but in most cases, particularly in the cities, this proves to be at a prohibitive cost. The Act permitted local authorities to provide car parking facilities in buildings which could be used for other purposes. In other words, the purposes for which the building was used, apart from car parking, provided a degree of revenue that helped the ratepayer to bear the cost of providing facilities which are not for the ratepayers themselves, because we recognise that in cities many people are driving cars who are not ratepayers of that particular locality.

During the five years of the Act some 32 car parks were approved in such places as Central London, Westminster in particular, Leicester, Maidstone, Blackburn, and they have provided some 15,000 car parking spaces. To give an idea of the cost—and remember those 15,000 spaces—the capital invested was in the region of some £15½ million. This is a very sizeable figure. The other aspect to which the noble Lord referred was possible competition with private enterprise. To the best of my knowledge there have been no complaints in this matter, and for this reason: that because it has proved a useful experiment, we did not think it necessary to maintain the five-year limit on this particular legislation.

The noble Lord then asked how local authorities generally are getting on with the provision of off-street parking. Of course, cost is a major factor. I think the noble Lord will remember that it is only in the Greater London area—the Greater London Council and the boroughs—where there is a clear duty laid upon the authority to secure the provision of off-street car parking. The other local authorities have a responsibility but not a duty, and it may well be that Parliament should consider—certainly the Government are giving it consideration—whether the duty that has been laid upon the London boroughs and the Greater London Council should not be imposed on local authorities throughout the country.

One of the difficulties when one comes to parking meters is the machinery that we have imposed before anything can be done. If you take the case of a parking meters scheme in London, or for that matter any other local authority, the local authority has to seek permission of the Minister. At least this was the case until recently. And then it was for the Minister to make an Order. Then there have to be wide consultations.

To give an example, in Southampton the local authority sought permission for a scheme, and there were over 5,000 objections. This clearly creates great administrative difficulties, and certainly it turns consideration for weeks into months, and in some cases getting close on to years. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will remember that we have changed the procedure by an Order that your Lordships' House passed recently, the Parking Places (Transfer of Function) Order (No. 414), which provides that the local authorities themselves can now make Orders with the consent of the Minister. This of course will save time.

With regard to the London area, as the noble Lord said, the Greater London Council produced a scheme to cover some 44 square miles. This was a three-year plan, and it commenced in February, 1966, with a target date for completion early in 1969. There were 11 boroughs concerned and there were to be 44 parking meter zones. The first steps—the surveys—have now been taken by all the boroughs. Five boroughs are committed in principle to introducing schemes by the target date; six boroughs are still negotiating with the Greater London Council.

The Government believe that this scheme, which in some senses is in its early stages, will be one of gathering momentum, and we have no reason to believe that the target date should not see almost the completion of the entire scheme as proposed by the Greater London Council. I am quite sure, and I share this view with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that we have to clear our streets in some way. Here parking meters can play a part; but if I may speak personally in this matter, sometimes I cannot help but feel that parking meters have played some part in creating the congestion. I think that in the end the solution must be in the provision of off-street parking facilities by the authorities. This is an expensive matter, and clearly the ratepayers have much to say on it. Therefore I hope that while local authorities are on a voluntary or permissive basis we shall certainly stimulate them to the best degree possible to provide increased off-street parking and to make full use of this Bill when it becomes an Act. Already a number of local authorities are pressing the Government for approval of their various schemes.

With regard to the noble Lord's request on income tax, at this time of the year I merely take note. As he said, it was a heritage that he was unable, regretfully, to deal with during his own time. I can only say that I wish he could have dealt with a good deal more of the heritage that he left us. However, certainly on this occasion I do not propose to be provocative; but I hope the noble Lord will at least assist us in the speedy passing of this piece of legislation.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.